This is my only exception to my normal anti-clown rule (the normal rule being "Kill it! Kill it!").
Percipient readers will notice that my use of the word identity, in this post and forward, doesn't correspond to the strict use I employed in Queer Identity, Part I. I am somewhat disappointed about the inconsistency; but it seemed impossible to maintain the accessible tone I'm aiming for here, while at the same time being academically strict about the word identity, among others. Here and elsewhere, I use identity in the more colloquial sense, where it corresponds to what I described in the above post as a person's sense of self. I recognize and uphold the intellectual (and, indeed, theological) distinction between the two things, and ask those readers who, like me, are afflicted with a pedantic and appropriate desire for exactness of language to work with me. Language, when defied, has a tendency to avenge itself; and provided the ideas remain the same, I feel that linguistic imperfection is behovely, but all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.
I wrote in my last about the theory that being gay means being metaphysically different from straight people, and why I don't accept that theory. Gay men, straight men, and everybody in between are all fundamentally men, with different qualities attached to them, and some of those different qualities include sexuality. The same, naturally, would apply to lesbians and heterosexual women.
In that case, though, why bother to speak of a queer identity at all? Even as a loose way of speaking about sense of self, or as an analogy or whatever. As a commenter pointed out, your nose is part of you too, but measuring and describing everything about yourself in terms of your nose would be weird. And even if we consider more serious aspects of a person like, say, political convictions or religious beliefs -- well, we've all met people whose devotion to some party or devotion or other pet cause has kind of taken over their psyche, and they aren't an attractive bunch as human beings.
Or, if they are, it isn't really cause for comfort.
And of course we've all met people whose sexuality has dominated every other aspect of them: I've run into it more frequently in the LGBT world -- which I put down to that particular sort of defiance characteristic of minorities of various sorts, carried to an extreme, as not infrequently happens among people who are or feel bullied and rejected -- but I think you see it in the womanizing machismaniac or the oversexed party girl in the same degree.* Anyone, not just evil queens, can look into a mirror with no concern except who wants their body the most, and most of us have, now and again.
But I do think that sexuality has a right to a place, and may even have a prominent place, in our sense of self. That is, not only our sex and gender, but our sexual orientation, have a claim on our self-concept.
What precise role sexual orientation should take, relative to other aspects of our sense of self -- vocation, ethnicity, religious tradition, chocolate preference** -- I don't propose to define strictly. This is partly because I'm not at all sure, and partly, too, because I expect that every person's own hierarchy of aspects will rightly differ. Not that they'll differ unlimitedly (I don't think it would be right, for instance, to place your national identity in such a relationship to your religious identity that you could conscientiously declare the head of state to be the rightful head of the Church). But there will be legitimate variation; and I am specially concerned not to insist that everybody who experiences exclusive or predominant homosexual attraction has some sort of obligation to identify as gay. That, in my view, is as inappropriately dogmatic as the insistence that nobody should.
What case, then, within the principles of the Catholic faith, can be made for thinking and speaking of yourself as lesbian or gay or whatever? What case can be made for treating it as being that important? I think the key can be found in the Catechism, paragraphs 2331-2332:
"God is love and in himself he lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in his own image ..., God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion." ... Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others.
Now, in its context, this is part of a larger discourse on the Sixth Commandment,*** and primarily refers to the bond of love between husband and wife. But the specific mention of the affections and the general aptitude for human fellowship as being mediated by sexuality suggests, I think, that sexual orientation -- being an element of sexuality, and one that influences the kinds of relationships we form (both friendships and romances) pretty strongly -- is correspondingly an important part of us. That which has a say in how we relate to people, has a say in how we think of ourselves; for human beings are by nature social creatures, that is, creatures that relate to one another, voluntarily and involuntarily (none of us chose to be born, and maternity and paternity are pretty formative relationships).
Of course there is more to us than our sexual orientation. More; but not less. I don't find it helpful or life-giving to have my sexuality, one of the primary elements in how I relate to others, reduced to the status of a condition, to be hidden and managed and shamefacedly apologized for. That doesn't mean I approve of every element of my sexuality -- I don't, by a long shot. But that would be true if I were straight, too. There hasn't been an unfallen experience of sexuality on the planet earth since the Mother of God was assumed, still in her virginity; and I tend to doubt that that sort of thing can be expected to recur.
Of course, the Blessed Virgin never was one to do things the normal way.
So under what conditions do I espouse gayness as part of my sense of self -- or, to use the briefer and more popular way of putting it, in what sense do I identify as gay? It's a part of me; a part, not the sum and substance; it's part of how I relate to people; but I'm a whole man, not a sex drive with a human face attached. Just as a mirror reflects the body but not the soul, not because mirrors are bad,**** but because that's all they're made for -- in the same way, the statement "I'm gay" provides an incomplete picture because it was never intended to provide a complete picture. It shouldn't have to; no one should expect it to.
*I'd add the caution that, when it comes to getting a clear picture of the LGBT world from its spokesmen, this can be somewhat challenging -- not because of dishonesty, but because by nature advocacy has to talk about the thing that it advocates for, repeatedly and thoroughly. Since there isn't really such a thing as heterosexual advocacy, there is no straight equivalent; and therefore, the concern with sexuality and identity displayed by LGBT advocates does wind up looking extremely disproportional, relative to the concern with sexuality and identity in the heterosexual community. My own hunch is that the difference is, not entirely, yet mostly illusory -- a product of the discourse rather than of any quality intrinsic to queer people.
**Dark chocolate -- 60% cocoa or higher -- is the best. But this is a free society, and other people have the legal right to be in error about this subject.
***For those of you who gleefully caught The Mask of Zorro misnumbering the commandments in the confessional scene, Catholics number the Ten Commandments differently: the standard Protestant first and second are treated as one, and the commandment not to covet is split into not coveting thy neighbor's wife and not coveting thy neighbor's possessions. Hence, the Sixth Commandment in our numbering is Thou shalt not commit adultery. This is treated by Catholic moralists as referring not solely to violations of the marriage bed's exclusiveness, but of the universal call to chastity, in every state and stage of life.
****But no one tell Tertullian or he'll get upset and start lecturing you about the evils of promiscuity and warfare and dyeing wool.