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.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Raw Tact, Part VI: Oh the Feels

I have a confession to make.

I don't handle weddings well.

Being a Christian gay twentysomething is a drag* during the summer. It's a parade of weddings. It isn't that you're not genuinely happy for your friends, or that you don't want to celebrate with them. You really are, and you really do. It's just that the emotions invoked by weddings for someone who can't really look forward to getting the same thing are rather more complex, and rather less nice, than just being glad for someone. And it isn't easy to figure out how to handle the negative emotions, either -- it would shockingly selfish and tasteless to say anything to anybody there, obviously, and there's only so long you can hide in the bathroom trying not to cry because you are a rampaging, jealous narcissist.

And people look at you funny if your coping mechanism is belting out Gloria Gaynor in the middle of the reception.

The difficulty isn't our exclusive property. A dear friend of mine, a quick-witted and delightful Catholic woman who is one of my favorite fag-hags, has made the same complaint; she's said, and I tend to agree with her, that the church can feel a bit like a commercial for marriage sometimes. It's too bad that feeling guilty about the negative feelings doesn't make them go away, because if it did, that would be boss.

I quite truthfully don't know what to do about this. I have an uncomfortable feeling that it may be one of those problems that just doesn't have a solution. Some problems are like that. Some kinds of suffering, including the suffering involved in being self-centered (once you've realized that you are self-centered and are trying to become less so) just have to be waited out, I think; call it a penance, I suppose.

And even if there is a solution, I have a hunch that it would not be a straightforward one. Dorothy Sayers, a friend of C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton, wrote an essay contrasting her work as a mystery novelist with the work of life in general, in which she said the following:

"The detective problem is always soluble. It is, in fact, constructed for the express purpose of being solved, and when the solution is found, the problem no longer exists. ... But it is unwise to suppose that all human experiences present problems of this kind. There is one vast human experience that confronts us so formidably that we cannot pretend to overlook it. There is no solution to death. There is no means whatever whereby you or I, by taking thought, can solve this difficulty in such a manner that it no longer exists. From very early days, alchemists have sought for the elixir of life, so reluctant is man to concede that there can be any problem incapable of solution. ... The only two things we can do with death are, first, to postpone it, which is only a partial solution, and, secondly, to transfer the whole set of values connected with death to another sphere of action -- that is, from time to eternity. ... 'Whose, therefore, shall she be in the resurrection? For the seven had her to wife.' In the terms in which you set it, the problem is unanswerable; but in the kingdom of heaven, those terms do not apply. You have asked the question in a form that is far too limited; the solution must be brought in from outside your sphere of reference altogether."**

What to do? Daydreaming about what I would have liked to have with Victor, or what my ex-boyfriend and I wanted, only feels good for about twelve seconds. After that things get decidedly worse.*** And faking cheerfulness -- even if anybody could feel authentic and comfortable doing that for more than about twelve seconds -- has the defect of not working very well. Loneliness and its children of self-pity and jealousy, that fear fathers on it, are extraordinarily powerful emotions that do not take kindly to being ignored; especially when, with respect to celibacy, you feel you've been backed into a corner by the conflict between what you feel and what you think -- or, from another perspective, between what you want and what you love.

So what creative thing can be done with such emotions? I'm not sure. Recognizing them for what they are -- flawed, but natural, reactions to the situation of unwanted singleness -- is a necessary first step. Learning to will the singleness God has willed for you is, I presume, part of the solution, but learning to want something is about as easy as carving a statue out of solid marble with a spoon. It can, in principle, be done, but you may be there a while. And in the meantime, there's the feels. Oooh the feels. They're awful. And I really think there's nothing to do but acknowledge them, try not to go nuts, and wait for them to go away.****

So ... I guess this post basically amounts to "Life's a shit sandwich sometimes." I hope you all ... found that edifying.


**From the essay 'Problem Picture,' in the collection The Whimsical Christian, pp. 133, 135, 141. I cordially dislike anthologies, especially ones with cutesy titles, but it's what I've got. I believe it was originally published in her book The Mind of the Maker.

***Which, naturally, means that I do it over and over. "I give myself very good advice ..." (Disappointingly, this doesn't even lead to an encounter with mome raths.)

****Okay, this helps too.


  1. "I'm sooo vain", maybe, but I really think part of this post is about me. :-) You're in my prayers, boy.

    1. Thank you; likewise. And if I ever learn to gavotte, Carly Simon will be how we do. :)

  2. Been there, man.

    I don't know what to tell you. Except...

    Well, I've at least learned a few things:

    For many (most?) people "what you want/feel" eventually wins out, at least for a good chunk of their youth and middle age (after which the settling-down of hormones and lives make it easier to disown the sins of youth). They drop their guilt/shame/abstract-moral-concern (etc; whatever form is taken by the inhibition or anxiety they have over the stricture in question and its conflict with their desire and psychological well-being) entirely and/or whatever was causing it. Some abandon religion and faith entirely, sadly; some of those become quite bitter or defiant towards it, but others don't and just see it as a phase they outgrew but which they still respect and sympathize with in others. Some simply switch to a variety of religion (whether another sect or a "cafeteria" variety of their own) that allows them their signal weakness; some of these retain a bit of cognitive dissonance over the inauthenticity of negotiating a "winking" compromise for themselves like this, but for others the experience of the psycho-emotional tension they found themselves under is itself actually an [experiential] argument for cynicism about the stricter moral code and so would consider the choice decisively authentic, all "rational theory and logic" or claims of infallible revelation be damned.

  3. For a few "what you love/think" scores a definitive victory (or at least as definitive as possible) and pulls them into a lifelong black-hole of avowed repression that can be basically impossible to escape once they've crossed the event-horizon. Many of these sorts are found in the priesthood and religious life, but others are just that "strange uncle" at family parties. Some really are quite successful at the sublimation, though often this sort will still seem a bit "weird" or affected either way, like you can tell the costume doesn't quite fit, a "protests too much" sort of thing...but possibly endearingly or at least harmlessly so. And for some the totalizing nature of the constructs they've so completely submitted to means that there isn't even a "protests too much" quality to them, because they genuinely have managed to entirely insulate themselves from being at all personally affected by the contradictory voices in our society that keep most of us (even when we disagree with them) from obtaining that sort of absolute "innocence" or naivete. Maybe these people are happy within the mental world they've created for themselves, or at least eventually become very comfortable and effortless within it, I can't really tell; I hope they are. Others are just evidently not so successful at the sublimation, and are painful to even deal with after a while, tedious, frantically in denial, engaged in all sorts of obfuscating identity-craft to create veils of delusion for themselves because they obviously do feel their "certainty" undermined (and thus in need of constant maintenance) by all the cross-talk in our society (and that can be not so harmless; obviously, some of that sort do harm people as an effect of their own self-loathing and need to create an ideological fortress). And I'll clarify: when I say "successful or not" at the sublimation I'm not at all talking about whether they actually achieve total continence. Some of the "unsuccessful" ones are so repressed that they do, and some of the "successful" ones don't (but have just become adept at "working around" it mentally, at swallowing the cycle of guilt and repentance to the point where it has no further effect on their well-being or self-image beyond itself).

    And then there's a tiny group of us for whom the tension just...snaps. Without either side "winning," but resolved by grace in a fashion that simply totally resituates the terms of the question. And by this I don't mean that desire suddenly conforms to faith (that's rarely so, and might be called a true miracle!) Some of this group succeed at an abstinence-without-repression, a holistic integrated celibacy to which the pain you describe above would no longer even make sense. And others of us don't, in fact, "succeed" in that sense at all but are nevertheless given peace on the matter.

  4. Thank you so much for these blog posts; the terrible, burning tact, the splendiferous literary/musical allusions, and, of course, the gay jokes. Of course, being still a high school senior, it's by no means quite the challenge for me it is for you. Yet, though I am forever casting doubtful glances into the future to catch sight of land. Thank you sharing a peek of your spyglass to all of us. God bless you.

    -J, the Same commentor on Agni Parthene.

    1. Dang. Thank you. I don't know what to say.

    2. Ach! I wrote this on about five hours of sleep *I think.* ( Spyglass *with* all of us. Dang typos.) XP

  5. I have been struggling to say those very thoughts for a while, and I can now just point to your post when people ask my why I dread going to weddings. Your posts always speak to me, whether I agree or not, and I just wanted to say thank you for your brutal honesty (as well as the video links; I've directed more than one friend to that song from the Alice in Wonderland soundtrack...).

  6. Though perhaps you were being silly, I don't think that you're a "rampaging, jealous narcissist" for having the deeply human desire to have someone to love of your own. Surely at a wedding where the image of lifelong matrimony and partnership is pounded into your head from all around you, any single person would feel particularly tender in this area. And even more so than that would any single person who felt that they were consigned to be unmarried for the rest of their life, by no less than their god.

    I would also like to say that I am particularly offended by the caricature of liberal Christians offered by the first anonymous comment. I came to choose the Episcopal faith and my pro-gay stance through a long process of contemplation and prayer. I (and many others) did not choose a Church that affirmed lgbt people the way they are because I wanted a "compromise" faith, as you so artfully put it, but because I came to a separate conclusion from yourself on this subject. A conclusion that I QUITE believe is in accord with God's will.

  7. We all have our own experience, but I've experienced a lot of similar, deep distress at weddings, because I honestly felt no hope of getting married and longed for marriage so much. I think you're right that there's no answer, because death exists and all suffering has death in it. For myself, I went to fewer and fewer weddings, the less I could stand it, and that helped. Sometimes you just have to close off, for a while, the things that hurt too much. That's sort of been my general conclusion in the 8 months I've had to look over my single life from a married perspective. I don't know how I could have redeemed the time better than I did, and yet my inhabitation of single life was very imperfect. I'm still trying to figure it out. Thanks for coming to our wedding, though. I knew at the time it would cost you some, but your presence was really a blessing for us.