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.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Kintsukuroi, Part IV: Hush

So supposing we grant the gist of this series of posts: that being gay (which is something distinct from having gay sex) is, or can be, a legitimate if limited part of our idea of ourselves, and capable of faithfully Catholic expression. Put more simply still, gay Catholic is a meaningful category. Even supposing that, why bring it up? Why not remain private about the whole thing? After all, it's no one else's business, and it's an extremely personal thing.

Well, I am the first to say -- and have said more than once -- that no one on God's earth is obligated to come out of the closet. Now, if you're contemplating getting married and your prospective spouse doesn't know, then I think you have an obligation to tell him or her, specifically; and if you have a spiritual director, you probably ought to be open about it there. But in general, "I don't want to" is an adequate and complete response to nearly any urging to come out, because it's your own business.

A lot of Catholics, and others, seem to want to go a great deal further than that, though. They seem to want not merely for us to have the option of staying closeted, but for LGBT people en masse, Christian or not, to be silent on the subject.

I've seen a number of reasons adduced for this; the main objections, as far as I can tell, are that others bear their crosses with quiet patience rather than howling for others to come help them, and that so much talk about homosexuality risks scandal by normalizing it and muddying the Church's teaching.

For the first concern, I'm frankly worried about the people who profess to be bearing their crosses alone. Christ Himself did no such thing. Nor did He or His apostles instruct us to try to. Bear ye one another's burdens is not mere moralizing on St Paul's part; it is the very principle of the life of grace. Our coinherence with one another in Christ is a coinherence in sufferings and in actions, or it is nothing. All things are vicarious: when an infant is baptized, he enters into the life of Christ, which is one with the life of the Church, in the persons of his godparents, who profess his penitence and faith on his behalf; when the Eucharist is consecrated, it is the whole Church in the person of the priest who consecrates, and it is the Person of Christ who offers and is offered to God and man at once, Himself the coinherence of man with God; in prayer, it is from the Holy Ghost that, with and through the saints, the angels, and the Mother of God, we approach the Father in Christ; in Penance, the absolution we receive by the death of Another itself issues in our pouring out our lives, in however small a way, back to that living Other in the person of our neighbor. Inasmuch as ye have done it to the least of these, My brethren, ye have done it unto Me; and again, Hereby we perceive the love of God, because He laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. There is no room for jealousy of one's cross in Christianity.

I must admit, I often get the impression from authors who wish to discourage people like me from coming out, that it isn't so much a matter of what they believe is best for gay people, but that they are tired of hearing about the topic at all. That's understandable. But, if any of them are reading this, I would gently remind them that they have the privilege of being tired of the subject, and of ignoring it if they like. We don't.

If you haven't seen it before, this is the coming out video of Daniel Pierce, which 
went viral a little more than a year ago. Be warned that it is extremely disturbing.

Turning to the possibilities of scandal, I'd like to unpack that problem somewhat. First, at the risk of sounding flippant, I feel that there's a closing-the-barn-door-after-the-horse-has-bolted quality to worries about the normalization of homosexuality. Gay culture has gotten to be, by cultural standards, about as normal as Froot Loops (maybe more so, since I can't actually remember the last time I saw a box of those).

Second, I don't think personally that keeping homosexuality socially abnormal was ever that important a goal to begin with -- and not only because homosexuality is, after all, normal, in the sense of having been around since time immemorial and showing no signs of going anywhere now. That aside, abnormal and wrong are not interchangeable terms, in either fact or feeling; and one of the flaws of human nature is that most people tend to prefer doing what's normal to doing what's right. Concentrating on normality versus abnormality of sexual orientation seems to me to be playing into the hands of the World, rather than issuing a prophetic challenge to its mode of valuing things.

As to the risk of rendering the Church's teaching unclear, I for one am convinced that silence is the worst possible response to that danger. Merely to repeat the words of the Catechism, in a world to which both its philosophical basis and its technical vocabulary have become incomprehensible, will not serve. We have to say what we think, and why, in language that is comprehensible to those outside the Church, and no one is in a better position to do that -- in either understanding or credibility -- than LGBT Catholics. Catholic and Queer are two extraordinarily different dialects of English, and we are ideally suited for translation. I am convinced that to ask us not to do that is, in effect, to seriously hamper the New Evangelization.

And if we speak of scandal, it is worth noting that scandal does not only mean making people think that we're okay with gay. Insofar as any act that risks moving other people away from God by its bad example is scandalous, I think the scandal given by tacit -- or explicit -- approval of the brutal treatment of gays in Russia, India, or throughout much of Africa is grave, and reprehensible. Turning a blind eye to cruelties committed in the name of family values and traditional religion discredits the whole Church in the eyes of those outside her.

Because it isn't just about political justice -- though if it were, that would be enough to have a conversation about. It's about every human person being worthwhile and wanted in the Catholic Church. There is no one whom God loves less, and there is no danger that He will not have enough love to go around. The debate about homosexuality is not about Those People and their evil agenda. It is about people, dearly loved by Love Himself however well or badly we behave. And if we don't behave ourselves, well, with St Peter the apostate, St Paul the terrorist, the Magdalene whore, and all the ragtag and bobtail of drunks, con men, witches, womanizers, cowards, trolls, and assorted delinquents whom the Church has blessed and canonized and celebrated -- well, we're in good company.

But the impression we make on those outside isn't my only concern in arguing that, while not obligatory, coming out should be accepted. The effect of the closet on LGBT Catholics concerns me, too (whether they identify with LGBT labels or not, which is of course their own affair).

I've said before that no one is obliged to identify as gay, and I stand by that. But I would add that I've seen not identifying as gay used as a pretext to deny, ignore, and repress one's sexuality, instead of accepting and integrating it. I think this is a very bad and dangerous move. Repression doesn't work -- what you repress will worm its way out of you by some other route; or, if it doesn't, the force required to keep it inside you will stifle and distort your psyche.

That isn't to say either that you should do whatever any impulse tells you to; but integration (and thus, chastity) requires accepting one's feelings and desires for what they are: the raw material given to us by God to make a person with. Regardless of what you prefer to call the material, if what you call it is a pretext for pretending that it isn't there, you're going to hurt people -- just yourself if you're very lucky, but more probably others as well. The stories of women and men who've refused to accept homosexual feelings and gotten married, without being honest with themselves or their spouse about them, only to have those feelings catch up to them and ruin the home they worked so hard to build, are neither few nor far between.* The ex-gay world is littered with them, including some of the most prominent names in the movement. I know more than a few myself.

The long and the short of it is: be honest. Say anything, as long as it's the truth as best you know it; and see that it is the truth as best you know it.

*This should not be taken to decry those couples who enter what are sometimes called mixed-orientation marriages, such as Josh and Lolly Weed or Chris and Melinda Selmys. The distinction here is that, in these cases, the queer individual had already come to terms with their sexuality, and had come out to the eventual spouse, before there was any question of marriage. This honesty is often lacking, on one or both sides, in professedly ex-gay marriages.

1 comment:

  1. Very good post as usual :). As for as that video: wow! :(. Granted, I don't know the full story and the fella probably shouldn't have said that the effort to feed/clothe/put a roof over his head was not "raising" him didn't help any. That said, those folks were VERY nasty to him :(.