Collect for Candlemas

Almighty and ever-living God, we humbly beseech thy majesty: that, as thine Only-Begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in the substance of our flesh; so we may be presented unto thee with pure and clean hearts, by the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Ten Years Out

I'd forgotten until today, but this year actually marks ten years since I came out in high school. That was a ghastly experience: I was ashamed and scared, spoke clumsily, and was reprimanded for it and told to keep silent on the subject thereafter. It was later on, in college, that I started to feel safe and confident enough to just tell people, and ultimately to simply live outside the closet.

Coming out is still a contentious subject among Catholics. Courage, which is thus far the only Catholic ministry to homosexually attracted people that has the Church's full endorsement, has been emphatically hostile to the idea of any public acknowledgement of non-heterosexual attractions.* It's probably obvious from my writing that I do not share their reticence, and I'd like to analyze the question a bit.

The author of the blog Letters to Christopher (whom I know very slightly, and rather like, our disagreements notwithstanding)** wrote a post opposing coming out just recently, in which he has the following to say:
The wisest decision I ever made about living with an attraction to men was never broadcasting it to the world by following the ritual of 'coming out.' As time passes I become more convinced that the wisest course of action for anyone who lives with same-sex attraction is to keep this information limited to a very small number of close confidants. Unless someone likes boxes placed around them which have very little to do with reality. ... [He then writes of a friend finding some of his writing online, and going aside from a bonfire they were attending, to explain to this friend that he doesn't pass judgment on him or anyone else for not being celibate.] It was a good conversation, and we eventually meandered back to the bonfire. Later I heard that when we left the bonfire there was joking that took place among some who were there that "Oh, I bet they're going out there to make out/mess around/do something." Really?
The rest of the post is in the same vein, complaining -- legitimately enough -- about the confining and often crass stereotypes of gay people that still prevail in our culture. In order to avoid being tarred with this brush, he says, he preferred not to come out.

The thing is, that's exactly the kind of thing that coming out of the closet is designed to fight. Can demeaning stereotypes be fought without coming out, in principle? Yes. Should they be fought, whether they affect you personally or not? Certainly. But principled objections, however necessary and important, don't have anything like the power of being confronted with a person whom you suddenly realize you have been treating with disrespect, and who won't fit into your preconceived categories.

I'll admit, too, that the post falls rather flat for me, in that the things the author describes having avoided up to that point by not coming out all seem, to me, to have rather the character of tasteless annoyances, essentially trivial in themselves, if maybe symptomatic of something more serious -- as opposed to an affliction which it was his wisest decision ever made to have hitherto avoided. However, there's no accounting for taste, and one man may be driven past all endurance by something another brushes off easily.

Most of the sources that I've read that oppose coming out don't seem to have the faintest notion of why people come out in the first place; the only explanation that I've ever seen given is that the gay movement uses coming out to lock people into a false identity and gain political support. In support of this, it's been asserted, guides for coming school people to hear only two responses: absolute acceptance or unconditional rejection.*** The only thing to be said about this is that it is not true, as a perusal of such guides will show; and that I find this view a little hysterical in the first place, in that it evaluates LGBT people only as enemies of Catholicism (which plenty of us aren't), and not as human beings with human motivations. I would have hoped that the Catholics who rightly speak so much of not reducing ourselves to our sexuality, would not do such reducing for us.

Now, I'm sure there are people who have come out for Machiavellian reasons, and that is worth addressing. But to suppose that no one comes out for any other reasons appears to me to be, even in the restricted sense I give the word, homophobic. Being gay does not make you crazy or evil; neither does disagreeing with the Catholic Church; and frankly, as someone who used to be active in LGBT advocacy, we spent more time making fun of Christian paranoia than of Christian morals.

So why would somebody come out? And, more particularly, why would a Catholic Christian come out? The USCCB (from whom I do not lightly differ) gently discourages it; to say the least, I should surely have a reason to be out of the closet. And it's worth pointing out, in an essay defending coming out, that there are perfectly legitimate reasons to stay in. It's nobody else's business if you don't want it to be, and "I don't want to" is therefore an adequate reply to any urging to come out.****

For me, the question was academic, in that I was already out before I became a Catholic. But why continue to be out, as it were? For several reasons; the chief of them being that when I was processing all this as an adolescent, I was terribly alone and frightened. I had no one. Whom could I know was safe and wouldn't reject or expose me, perhaps cruelly? Whom could I trust to know what they were talking about? Moreover, if the Catholic doctrine of homosexuality is true, then shouldn't it be open to those to whom it most urgently pertains to talk about it? If it isn't, if they're keeping secrets, how can I trust them? I don't want anybody to have to feel alone like I did; and my e-mail over the past year and a half suggests to me that being out has been worth it for that.

Another reason is the one I've already cited, homophobia. This, I am sorry to say, is largely the preserve of religious people nowadays (in this country, anyway). That prejudice wants correcting. And it can be corrected, without any dilution of Catholic teaching; I was told by a guy I went to college with that he had been kind of homophobic into the beginning of college, but that the example of a classmate who was gay and also a practicing Catholic changed his mind and convicted him of his unfairness in that regard. And Christian leaders can talk about avoiding discrimination all they like, but people can usually only come to recognize and repent of discriminatory tendencies by being confronted with a person; and as long as Christians oppose and condemn coming out, assurances that they aren't prejudiced are going to ring hollow.

Which brings me to a third reason. I believe that the discouragement of coming out, whether gentle or hostile, is a source of scandal to those outside the Church. Fifty years ago this may not have been the case, since the dispositions of society were much more in accord with Christian sexual mores, and for people to come out looked like shamelessness and an attempt to normalize perversion. Well, in a world where "Two Girls One Cup" is a thing,***** I'd say the normalization ship has kinda sailed, and as for shamelessness, I don't think it's either reasonable or healthy to be ashamed of something you didn't choose. Today, the only thing that discouraging coming out looks like, to those outside the faith, is discomfort with knowing that someone is gay, because gay people are icky and you don't want to get any on you.

And for people to believe that the Catholic Church is homophobic is a terrible stumbling block. There are people who will believe that regardless, because they classify all opposition to gay sex as homophobia. But others will test Christians against whether we not only take this view of gay sex, but treat LGBT people as second-class citizens. And if we are serious about making the distinction between disapproving of gay sex and being bigoted against gay people, we have to go above and beyond to prove that we sincerely love gay people; and that means -- it is an embarrassment to have to say this in so many words -- that we have to be okay with knowing that somebody's queer.

Admittedly some people are more obvious about it than others.

But for me personally, and I think for many of us, one of the deepest reasons for coming out of the closet can be put in a single word: authenticity. As I said before, being gay is a very personal thing, and no one is obliged to share that information with the world. But conversely, being gay is a very personal thing, and life consists entirely in being a person interacting with other persons. The doctrine of the Trinity means that relations between persons -- that is, Love -- is the fundamental nature of all reality. 

And being gay affects how you relate to people. Not always in the same way -- LGBT people aren't stereotypical any more than straight people are stereotypical. But it always does: "Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others."****** Everyone wants to know and be known for who they are; and, while sexual orientation may not constitute a person's identity, it is still in a very real way a part of who we are, because it dictates how we relate to people and what sort of relationships we long for, regardless of what our beliefs are about those possibilities.

Pretending to be straight can be suffocatingly inauthentic, and inauthenticity is always isolating, because you're being loved for a part of yourself, or even a fake self, instead of the real you. I was never lonelier than when I was closeted, and no matter what assurances I was given by others that they would love me no matter what, it was only by verifying for myself that a gay man was someone they could love -- which, in rare cases, did prove to be too much for them to handle -- that I was able to begin really receiving love.

Note that I've said authenticity, not honesty. Honesty, that is, telling the truth, can be combined with avoiding the issue in a multitude of ways; which is one reason, too, that I prefer the word gay to same-sex attracted in most circumstances, as I've seen the latter used as a shorthand for "I am going to avoid the implications of my attractions as long as I possibly can, and probably hurt myself and others while doing it" rather too often to like it. Authenticity, by contrast, suggest a way of being: being the same person to everybody, and loving others as that person, because to love is to give oneself. Which is far more important than the mere publication of facts about oneself. That sets me free in daily life to just be who I am, and try, as that person, to love others as best I can, in the grace of God. This above all: to thine own self be true, / And it must follow, as the night the day, / Thou canst not then be false to any man.

That's why I don't regret the decision I made a decade ago: because I told the truth, and now, I'm not scared any more. So, for National Coming Out Day: Hi, I'm Gabriel Blanchard, and I'm gay. Pleased to meet you.

*I must admit that my knowledge of the apostolate is limited in that I have never yet set foot in a Courage meeting, because I don't get the impression I'd be welcome even as an orthodox and practicing Catholic, since among other things I'm out of the closet and use the word gay. There are other reasons I haven't visited -- for instance, it is in my experience quite surprisingly difficult to find a chapter.

**I have, at the cost of slightly awkward phrasing in a few sentences, avoided naming this person, out of respect for his own dislike of coming out. Obviously I don't share his approach, but coming out (or not) is after all a very personal decision, and it's none of my business to make it on his behalf.

***This is based partially on the essays on the subject that used to be posted on Courage's website, and also on the general tenor of many Catholic writers on the subject. The said general tenor can be found on the internet if you care to go looking for it, and to violate the First Rule of the Internet, but Courage has altered its website, and doesn't appear to still be hosting the essay I quoted in this post. If that's the case, I am very pleased.

****I would recognize two exceptions, one practical in nature, one principled. The first is in speaking to a spiritual director; if they aren't fully informed of your nature, their counsel will be correspondingly less accurate and useful. The second is in seeking marriage: a spouse has a right to know about this; indeed, I'm given to understand that an undisclosed homosexual orientation is grounds for an annulment in canon law. Whether I'm rightly informed about that or not, information that is thus directly relevant to a husband and wife's life together cannot justly be withheld or distorted.

*****If you don't know what this is, for the love of God, don't Google it. If you must know, look it up on Urban Dictionary, and then cleanse your eyes with fire. Trust me, you'll want to.

******Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 2332. Sexuality here does not exclusively mean sexual orientation, but the whole of being a human person, an assertion that we are not simply souls that "have" bodies to which sex is incidental, but that we are by nature body-and-soul together, and that gender-sex is part of who we are.


  1. One of the reasons Catholic officialdom discourages coming out may be an inarticulate fear that it will encourage other people to come out to themselves and then to gratify their sexual appetites and reject the Church's moral teaching. There may be something to it. No matter what one does, there are those who will take it the wrong way. Still, it seems to me that if we are going to obey the Catechism by accepting homosexuals with respect, compassion, and sensitivity, we have to know who they are — not every one, but enough so that we can give witness to the world as a Church that we are accepting.

    Of course, particular circumstances come into play, but what a difference it would make if, all across the nation, such a strange vibration — celibate gay teachers in Catholic schools, for example, came out by the hundreds.

    As for authenticity, I think a person can be truly himself without being officially out. It takes some practice, perhaps, but one can have the associations one wants and engage in the activities one wants, however typically "gay" they are or not. For someone, flamboyance may be authentic; for others it could be inauthentic. For the latter, "straight-acting" isn't an act; it's who they are.

  2. I really appreciate how we can turn this conversation into the ideal of authenticity, not sexuality.

    My disagreement/lack of understanding/ or just the inability to relate on the concept of being out comes from a hyper sexual culture in which we must prove our sexuality. So when I think of 'coming out', I need NOT to think of it as being hyper sexual.

  3. "I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine." ~Isaiah 43:1

    Mike Wallace: How do we end racism?
    Morgan Freeman: Stop talking about it.

    1. Truthfully, I think Morgan Freeman is wrong about this. Of course, simply talking about it does no good in itself (no matter how many hipsters like myself tout the benefits of mere generalized "awareness"), but knowledge is the prerequisite to intelligent action. To end something by simply not talking about it, in my view, is to attempt to return to primal innocence simply by removing our aprons of fig leaves.

  4. The line in this post that struck me most was, "I'm angry that the church is so interested in promoting a "wholesome" image to the world and so disinterested in the people silently suffering in their own congregations."

    All throughout the bible we turn to our day, and when we hold up it's pages we can see a mirror. Christ himself observed this well: "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." (Matthew 15:8) and "do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others." (Matthew 6:5)

    God loves you and your partner,
    through sufferings and joy,
    with plans not to harm you or hurt you,
    but to give you hope and a future.

    We hear a different Jesus from different pulpits in different churches. In John's gospel text we hear from an inclusive Christ. He tells us that life isn't what it's all about. But abundant life." The thief comes only to steal, slaughter, and destroy. I’ve come that they may have life, and have it abundantly." Then we hold up the mirror to today we see him protect a prostitute from stoning at a well, a jab that ends the sin debate for all time (they put the stones down and walked away) Then we see him going beyond the quarantined Ebola zones and touching the leper. Then we see him eating with a rich AIG wallstreet book cooker. Then we see him talking to an ISIS terrorist, or, a Samaritan woman at the well. We see a Jesus that breaks down the walls on what the rest of the society has drawn into a box. That no matter what humans do, love in the forgiveness of his death can overcome and conquer it, thus not just giving us life, but new life, sustaining life, growing life, abundant life, and finally eternal life. We don't always see this Jesus followed in other Christians. Partly because the leaders aren't familiar with him. Partly because the bible is a living mirror to our current day.

    Archuletta's song says, "there are melodies in each one of us." If that song isn't love, then by their fruits at the harvest will separate them.

    "While people were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. When the crop came up and bore grain, the weeds appeared, too.
    “The owner’s servants came and asked him, ‘Master, you sowed good seed in your field, didn’t you? Then where did these weeds come from?’ He told them, ‘An enemy did this!’“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them out?’
    “He said, ‘No! If you pull out the weeds, you might pull out the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and tie them in bundles for burning, but bring the wheat into my barn.(Matthew 13:25-29)

    1. Um -- I'm genuinely glad you think on the Scriptures so much, but I believe you've mixed up my post with somebody else's.

    2. I was paraphrasing. There has always been wheat and weeds in the church.

    3. That's quite true, of course, but I don't think I see the relevance. Could you explain a little more?

    4. Attempt to illustrate more:

      Jesus talks about separating the wheat from the weeds. Anyone (including the church) that does not love you as Jesus loves you (outlined in my post) will be "tied in bundles for burning." Those who love you truly will be, "brought as wheat into my barn." God's justice is a mighty pendulum, and it's going to swing, even against the catholic church.

      These moments in the church echo all the way to 1521, when Martinus Ludher Mansfeldt (Martin Luther) moved to Wartburg Castle in Thuringia Germany, where he had been forced to move for the rest of his life because of his challenge to the church. Not only did he leave the church, he stormed out of it. It reflects goldenly like a mirror to the actions of Christ in the gospel pages found in Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15, Luke 19:4, and John 2:13. There we see a Jesus who has no patience at all for the ignorance he sees. We see ignorance today, as discussed in your post.

      Before Luther we see Augustine complains that the bishops, with their traditions and ordinances troubled the church more than the pharisees with their laws. "I have not at my disposal sufficient leisure to enter on the refutation of his opinions one by one: my time is demanded by other and more important work." (Augustine to Casulanus, A.D.396) And, "You seem to me to be prompted to mental effort night and day by no other motive than ambition to be praised by men for your industry and acquisitions in learning." (Augustine to Dioscorus, A.D.410) I like it better in your own words from blogger June 18th, "the church today has become as guilty of the Pharisees of old." Here we see a pattern being woven. The fact many churches rejects that God made us to have that gift with be it a man or a woman is a total blunder. They don't see that they are like days of old, "leaders of the blind." (Matthew 15:14)

      The forty third chapter and first verse of Isaiah tells us that God has called us by our name, and that he is with us. He never says that he is with us if we are straight. He never says he is with us sometimes. He never says he is with us when we feel like it. He never says he is with us if and when. He says he is with us.

      Read Luther's observations:
      "The world seems to me like a decayed house, David and the prophets being the spars, and Christ the main pillar in the midst, that supports all. There is no more dangerous evil than a flattering, dissembling counselor. While he talks, his advice has hands and feet, but when it should be put to practice, it stands like a mule, which will not be spurred forward. The papists rely upon this: the church cannot err; we are the church, ergo, we cannot err. To the major, i make this answer: true, the church cannot err in doctrine, but in works and actions she may easily err, and often does err; and therefore she prays: Forgive us our trespasses. Therefore when they argue and say what the church teaches uprightly and pure, is true, this we admit; but when they argue and say: what the church does is upright and true, this we deny. If Christ himself were again on earth, and should preach, without all doubt the pope would crucify him again.

      -Continued -

      "False Christians boast of the gospel, and yet bring no good fruits, like the clouds without rain, wherewith the whole element is overshadowed, gloomy, and dark, and yet no rain falls to fructify the ground: even so, many Christians affect great sanctity and holiness, but they have neither faith nor love towards God, nor love towards their neighbor .A scorpion thinks when his head lies hid under a leaf, that he cannot be seen; even so the hypocrites and false saints think, when they have hoisted up one or two good works, that all their sings therewith are covered and hid."
      ~ Martinus Ludher Mansfeldt

      We see a public relations stunt, we see words, but actions leave people rejected and outcast from the all inclusive Christ we see in my first post to you.

  5. I have a question, the term 'gay lifestyle' throws me off in dialogue. Exactly how is being gay a lifestyle? Even if I was a celibate straight or even a sexually active straight married or not/in a relationship or hooking up I don't view it as a lifestyle.
    Gay, bisexual youth can thrive with positive family relationships

    Cool article here... Can Catholics be a positive family force, keeping gay youth family members safe and loved without being in a situation we're endorsing behavior contrary to belief?

    1. What, if anything, the phrase "the gay lifestyle" means is a very good question. We all know what people usually mean when they mean the phrase: a life characterized by gay sex, presumed to be both promiscuous and in generous quantities, and possibly accompanied by political rabblerousing and/or substance abuse.

      It is, sadly, *not* needless to say that few gay people actually live such a lifestyle. (There are people who do, and that's a pity, because it obviously isn't a life designed to make anybody very happy for very long; but I digress.) Few if any of the LGBT-identifying people that I've ever met, even in gay bars, seem to fit such a mold; in my opinion, it's largely the product of disapproving imaginations, and fed more on media portrayals than on real life.

      Of course, in principle, the phrase "the gay lifestyle" ought to mean "the lifestyle characteristic of gay people in general." This makes the phrase quite useless, because there isn't a *the* gay lifestyle in this sense -- any more than there is "the straight lifestyle," as you pointed out.

      As to Catholics being a positive and nurturing force for gay family members without compromising their beliefs, this is perfectly possible. In my opinion, short of stating their approval or providing direct assistance in sexual activity (which I'd hope they wouldn't even in the case of conjugal intimacy, because eewww), a family can do more or less anything else to support gay members, -- including meeting and forming relationships with their partners (if they have one) -- without diluting their beliefs. For of course, the only thing Catholic teaching condemns is gay sex as such; it doesn't condemn loving relationships, and the fact that a given relationship is outside of Catholic moral teaching is more between the people in said relationship than between them and their family. Now, if the family has never professed Catholic belief on this subject, that may create a danger of scandal; but a single conversation, or even a very simple "I do adhere to the Church's teachings," can fix that. The subject, in my opinion, need not be dwelt on; though of course sincere questions about the doctrine should be answered, clearly and politely.

  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much, for your blog! You're certainly God's instrument in bring much needed understanding to the rest of the Church. You just don't know how much you've been a blessing to me and countless others who are lifelong faithful chaste gay Catholics but were never in the "gay scene." It is no exaggeration that we constantly live in fear and hiding, shame, under suspicion and judgment.