In keeping with my last, I want to continue from a highly subjective point of view. I consider objective truth infinitely more important than subjective truth; but subjective truth is still, in its fashion, true, and all truth must be communicated in a personal -- that is, a subjective -- context, because people are not objects but subjects. (If you happen to be squeamish about descriptions of homoerotic affections, even without any question of overt acts, you may want to skip this post.)
I fell in love for the first time when I was seventeen years old. I had just started college (long story), and that's where I met Victor.* He was a year older than me -- well, I suppose he still is a year older than me, but anyway. He was uncommonly good-looking, in that sort of rough-around-the-edges way that outdoorsy guys so often have: scruff, callused hands, a hilariously graceless dance step. But the things that really captivated me were his intense devotion to Jesus and his friendliness to me. I told him, trembling and ashamed, that I was gay while we were on a retreat with one of the campus ministries we were both involved in, and the first words out of his mouth were grace and acceptance. He radiated grace; meeting him was for me what meeting Beatrice was for Dante: Hic incipit vita nova, "Here beginneth the new life."
I don't think I'm overstating this. Falling in love is, of course, a very ordinary experience in one way, and does not have any intrinsic spiritual significance. Yet for many people, it is in fact a means through which God makes Himself manifest, and my enchantment with Victor was -- and remains -- one of those: thinking of him always calls me to a higher level of focus upon and surrender to God, irrespective of the cost. (That isn't to say I always heed the call by any means, but the calling remains.)
But of course there was conflict too. Not conflict with him, although we did disagree about some things, but conflict within myself. I knew already that gay sex was wrong; did it follow that gay affections were wrong? Must I abandon my romantic feelings? Could I even if I had to? That question was easily answered: I was powerless to feel otherwise than as I did. I spent two years pining in agony, wishing for the impossible requiting of my affections from a man who was not only a serious, not to say scrupulous, Christian, but quite possibly the most emphatically heterosexual guy I knew. (Not that he was a homophobe; I never once had a harsh or disdainful word from him about that.) His very holiness made me love him more -- was that better? Worse?
I came out of those two years an emotional wreck, tired and desperate. In retrospect, I don't think it's a coincidence that it was after Victor and I more or less parted ways (since we transferred to different colleges) that I tried to persuade myself that pro-gay theology was correct.** I was spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, even physically exhausted.
I did recover, largely through my conversion to the Catholic faith, which gave me nearly all the tools I needed -- Confession, spiritual direction, the writings of the saints and mystics, the Rosary, a ritual language with which to process my turbulent and often mysterious emotions, and, above all else, Christ in the Eucharist. But I could not have come to those very things -- not, at any rate, as I did -- if I had not fallen in love with Victor first. It broke me down in the way I needed to be broken down to be able to accept the Catholic faith, not as the conclusion of my own triumphant reasoning, but as salvation.
It is largely this which forbids me to regard homoerotic affections as being wrong or bad. There are other reasons -- as, for instance, that I don't think of romance as exclusively or chiefly a by-product of sexual desire, and so to make the jump from the wrongness of gay sex to a hypothetical wrongness of gay romantic love is an invalid inference, at any rate on the premises I hold. But my love for Victor so transfigured me -- saved my life, in fact -- and pulled me so consistently closer to Christ, and does even now, that I just can't react to it as something dirty.
Why talk about all of this? For two reasons: one is that everything has to be put in a personal context, as I have carved into the table before me and keep hammering with my shoe.
The other is that this is the matrix in which the discussion of homosexuality really has to take place. Whether or no a person falls in love, or, in doing so, experiences the affection sacramentally, this is one of the chief places where straight and gay experience both intersect and prove themselves alien to one another. The passionate sense of worth, beauty, and meaning -- hardly to be expressed save by the word glory -- that attends erotic love is something that lovers of every kind are acquainted with. There's a reason that Brokeback Mountain works about as well as Romeo and Juliet (and it isn't only that Jack and Ennis are less annoying than a pair of Veronese teenagers with no sense of proportion). But the divergence shows itself already in the dawning experience of first love: for a straight person, the first time your heart stops, it's thrilling and beautiful and you suddenly know what everyone was talking about all this time. For a man like me, that element is there in first love; but with it -- guilt, confusion, fear. The swoop in the stomach that one adolescent boy feels for a girl is matched by the swoop in the stomach that another boy feels for a boy; but the one has a public tradition of sexuality, including romance and theology as well as pop culture, to guide him, while the other may well be rudderless.
This is also part of why gay marriage is such a sensitive topic, and why the commonplace polemical attitude adopted by so many Catholics has been far worse than useless, speaking from an evangelistic perspective. The heterosexual traditionalist Christian has a sacrament by which romantic love, a perception of glory in an individual creature, is made a formal vehicle of Divine grace, as well as a respected institution in society, and among one's Christian friends and one's family in particular. That, as related specifically to erotic love, is something that the gay traditionalist Christian normally does not have.*** When that experience of loneliness crowned with loneliness is met by lectures about disordered inclinations, and left at that, it is idle to protest that accusations of homophobia are a conspiracy to silence the Church -- because even if Catholics aren't homophobes, their actual behavior is so clumsy that it seems a more economical explanation than otherwise.
Of course, rather than trying to imagine what it would be like to feel what I felt for Victor, a much simpler expedient can be used. Imagine for a moment (if you are straight) that the shoe was on the other foot, and that the person whom you loved was out of the question -- not because they were claimed by someone else, but because it was wrong to act on your heterosexual impulses. How would you feel? How would you propose to live? How would you relate to God?
*For his privacy, I have of course used a pseudonym and changed a few personal details. Everything else is accurate to the best of my recollection.
**I do not for one instant suggest that this is true of pro-gay theologians in general. Of some, it is doubtless true, but only because every belief has adherents who cling to it for bad reasons, Catholicism included; conversely, there are Christians who differ with the Catholic Church on this point, as on others, of whose sincerity and devotion I am quite confident. In this essay I am talking about my own bad motives, and do not consider the possibility of others' bad motives my business.
***Gay Christians who espouse the traditional doctrine of sexuality can, and sometimes do, still contract valid and sacramental marriages with people of the opposite sex, and I'm not decrying this -- two of my favorite authors are in mixed-orientation marriages to straight spouses. I am talking specifically here about the link between the subjective experience of eros and the objective institution of the sacrament of marriage, which isn't in my view the most important element of marriage by any means, but is one of the most profound human experiences and should be treated with profound respect.
Introit for the Third Sunday in Lent
Mine eyes are ever looking unto the Lord, for he shall pluck my feet out of the net: look thou upon me, and have mercy upon me, for I am desolate and in misery.
Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul: my God, in thee have I trusted; let me not be confounded.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.