When I gave up on chastity, a couple of years ago, it hardly felt like a choice at all. At any rate, it didn't feel like a meaningful one. It wasn't that I didn't perceive the gravity of the issue, it was that trying to be chaste quite simply didn't seem possible any longer. I had tried, and I had failed, so often and so thoroughly, that it seemed less immoral -- and less dangerous -- to at the least seek a monogamous and meaningful relationship.
Because, deep down inside, we all want a chance to show that special someone what boredom really is.
I can't really tell whether I've resumed the attempt at chastity now. I suppose I have. I mean, I'm trying to not have sex with guys, inside or outside any relationship. But the reasons I'm trying, and the form that trying now takes, are so alien to me that I don't even know how to classify them. And I'm not saying that as a clever, authorly way of conveying how real virtues are never what they look like from the outside (though that doubtless is also true). I really mean that the strange conglomeration of motives and decisions going on inside me -- they hardly feel like they're morally oriented at all. Even if they were to result in total abstention for the remainder of my life,* talking about these choices in terms of practicing virtue doesn't feel natural.
The thing, I think, that is hardest about the intersection of factors that I and men and women like me find ourselves in -- homosexual, Christian, evidently not called (for the foreseeable future, anyway) to marriage, and apparently not called to the priestly or religious lives -- the thing that seems hardest about it, sometimes, is the shapelessness of it.
It's easy to feel frustrated and left out, socially and emotionally as well as sexually, when your friends are getting married in droves and having children, and you know you can't -- or at least not without a radical reworking of your personality. A lot of straight Christian readers will want to leap up at this point and say that that's exactly what God's grace and growth in holiness do, is to radically rework your personality. But sit back, for a moment, and try to imagine what it would cost you to enter a way of life in which most of your relational instincts, and nearly all of your sexual ones, are aimed at something that isn't there, and have to be redirected toward a radically different pattern.
No, not that pattern.
Well, what about celibacy? What, indeed. Some of us have callings to the priesthood, or to become consecrated brothers and sisters, yes. But they are always a minority of a population, and being gay is not a mark of that sort of vocation, any more than not having a visa to visit Canada makes you likely to be heading for Mexico. They might coincide -- but it would only be a coincidence.
The catch in that is, most of the structures that support celibacy in the Catholic Church are precisely those structures of the priestly and religious lives. Lay celibacy has long existed in the Church; one thinks of Cordelia Flyte in Brideshead Revisited, who speaks of both her brokenly alcoholic brother and herself, an ex-postulant from a community of nuns, as being "odd hangers-on" who don't quite fit into either the world or the cloister. It makes me wonder whether this is, or was, a more peculiarly European (or at least Old World) phenomenon, as I don't know that I've seen it in America. I have been seeking guidance on living as a lay celibate for years, and thus far, nearly all the advice I've run across has consisted, in substance, of "Make friends." Gee thanks.
But it's more than a lack of guidelines, a lack of forms or rules. Those things, rather, are symptoms of a more general feeling of lack: the lack of a positive choice. As someone -- well, it may not be very holy of me to feel this way, but as someone who has more or less been backed into celibacy by the dissonance between my erotic desires and my religious convictions, I haven't really felt that I was choosing something that existed in its own right. I've only felt the No: not marriage, not priesthood, not monasticism. I haven't felt the Yes, the decision to embrace something with a specific character, a shape of its own.
"Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it unto me according to thy word."
Cardinal O'Brien, the previous Archbishop of Baltimore, said that young people would give their lives for a mystery but not for a question mark. In pursuing celibacy as a gay Catholic layman, I very much feel that I've been offered a question mark.
It didn't have to be this way. I think that for our "grandchildren," or perhaps some generation further off than they, it won't be: that the accumulated experience of adaptations, mistakes, innovations, and sufferings will have formed a treasure of wisdom that will be equal to mapping this part of the wilderness that is God -- no longer a question mark, still a mystery. But right now it is this way. Right now it seems to be an embrace of something with no shape, a trek in a wilderness that has no roads.
And really it's the future I'm scared of. Few individual moments are unbearable. One reaches the occasional breaking point; and then you break, or mysteriously don't. But it's the prospect of a whole life spent this way that is so intimidating. The remorseless, incessant transitions, the sense of losing friend after friend to a marital or religious life that you can't share or even, really, understand, the feeling that everybody got a real vocation except you -- illusory, to be sure. Unfortunately that knowledge doesn't help much. Or rather, it strengthens without consoling; like a nutritious, flavorless meal, with just enough to quiet hunger pangs and no more. A flavorless meal -- a small, flat disc of white bread, the tiniest sip of wine; just enough. And that being suspended with just enough is really scary, because what if it stops being enough? What if it isn't there next time?
From Hyperbole and a Half, "Depression, Part Two" by Allie Brosh
As so often -- I have no answers, and therefore offer none. I categorically refuse to cite some sanctimonious moral about faith making everything better. That's not what faith is for, and it is most certainly not what faith does. The most I can do is say, with Job, that Though He slay me, yet shall I trust Him -- but with same uncomprehending agony in the background, or rather in the foreground. (How strange that we modern Christians have managed to turn, of all things, the book of Job, that collection of saintly blasphemies, into a source of cute bumper sticker quotations.)
*Fat chance of that. God is admittedly a worker of miracles, but it'd take a miracle for me to be that successful at chastity, and He doesn't generally seem to send miracles merely to accommodate His children's spiritual convenience.