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, April 8, 2016

Gay and Catholic, Part III: Androphilia

Trying to appreciate a thing is a good way of finding out that thing’s best qualities, and men are things, especially to a hustler. Many men are heroic in their refusal to be pathetic, and hustlers are sometimes the only people to get a glimpse of a man in his loneliness, or in the weakness of his desire. And it is sometimes only by seeing this contrast—of a man on his knees who is normally a pillar of strength—that we can see the heroic aspect.
—Rick Whitaker, Assuming the Position

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Since I just wrote about the clobber passages, I’m supposed to write about Theology of the Body next. And I do plan to do that, but not just yet. First I want to explain what being gay means to me, because I was gay before I was Catholic; I brought my gayness to Catholicism, and in some ways I feel more like a gay man trying to make sense of religion than a Catholic trying to make sense of homosexuality.1

I have frequently been asked, not to say challenged, by Christian friends2 as to why I use the word gay instead of saying something like I struggle with same-sex attraction. There are a multitude of answers, one of the strongest (in my opinion) being that the word gay, unlike nearly all its proposed alternatives, is mercifully short. However, in reading Eve Tushnet’s Gay and Catholic, which I just started (finally!), I stumbled on an articulation of another reason, which I’ve long felt but couldn’t express very well. Describing her conversion, she writes:

I tried to get my friends to explain the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. They had never raised the issue with me before, which showed great intuitive insight on their part.  I think if they’d assumed that they were ‘supposed to’ witness to me by talking about God’s plan for my sex life, I would have been put off by the arrogance of their assumptions: assumptions that they knew better than me which questions were important to my spiritual life and assumptions that they as well-meaning straight people understood homosexuality better than I did. … People sometimes refer to me as ‘struggling with same-sex attraction.’ That language ignores the fact that I don’t particularly struggle with my orientation. … For many people, this language separates out a part of themselves and animates it, making it into a kind of living enemy, which plays into a lot of self-hatred and makes them feel internally divided rather than united in love of Christ.3

That spoke to me really strongly. I’ve always been put off by the language of struggle, and on reading this, I was finally able to articulate succinctly one of the major reasons why: it suggests that there is nothing to my sexuality except sexual attraction. And that just isn’t true.

The Catechism itself goes—well, not out of its way, but to some lengths, to recognize that there is more to sexuality in general than just attraction: it spends twenty paragraphs4 going over the deeper meaning of sexuality as a dimension of the mystery of the body, a medium of relationship, and a major field of integration and self-mastery. That’s a hell of a lot more than what makes your dick go up.

And what I feel toward men in general—to say nothing of what I’ve felt toward certain men in particular—is not reducible to being turned on, even when that’s part of it. There are times when the beauty of a particular male body literally takes my breath away. I’m not just sexually interested in men: I like them, I admire them, I’m aggravated by them, I’m fascinated by them.

When I crave a partner, it isn’t as simple and crass as wanting someone to fuck, though no, I’m not above wanting that. It’s wanting someone to fuss over you when you’re sick, someone to bicker with about whether to get a dog, someone to try a new restaurant with, someone whose taste in music is clearly wrong but whose errors you generously tolerate. Most of us want that, and I think I can safely say that most of us want that person to be of one particular sex. Because the, I don’t know, energy that each sex brings to those daily things really is different.5 I don’t just want a miscellaneous live-in friend, I want a husband. Whether that desire can be fulfilled, and if not, what it means, are distinct questions; but that’s the point of departure for any accurate discussion of those questions.

That’s why phrases like struggling with same-sex attraction are rather repellent to me; it does precisely what Eve describes, making me feel divided and alienated. I think it’s demeaning to insist on talking about homosexuality as a struggle when, for some of us, it’s also something that’s led us to see enchanting beauty and to feel profound love that we might never otherwise have encountered. The men I’ve loved6 have been occasions for delight in and veneration of beauty in creation, and for coming to a much deeper understanding of disinterested self-gift than I had before.

Not everyone has such a positive experience of being gay, and for them, saying I struggle with SSA might make a great deal of sense. What I’m contending is that this cannot be reduced to a formula. Which parts of the experience of homosexuality matter, and in what ways, are going to be slightly different for every person.

And the brute fact is, I don’t really struggle with the attraction anyway. I mean, here it is. What I struggle with is acting on it, or, to be blunter (i.e. more honest), watching porn, jacking off, and hooking up. I dislike the polite-drawing-room tone of struggling with same-sex attraction nearly as much as I object to it reducing the whole erotic dimension of my personality to those behaviors. Life is not like that, and while there is a place for drawing a discreet veil over things—especially to safeguard the dignity and privacy of others—it should never be allowed to obscure the essential reality of something that needs to be talked about.

For me, being gay isn’t primarily about sex. It’s about relationship, and orientation wields influence over our relationships whether we follow it, fight it, or sublimate it. I think relationship is one of the key aspects of reality; it’s written into it right from the source, the Trinity; and I think that something that profoundly affects how we relate to people can be rightly treated as one of the things that makes us who we are. And for me, being attracted to men affects how I relate to people enormously, in negative and positive and indifferent ways. It’s why I don’t have a wife or kids, even though I was not only raised to expect them, but would daydream about them as a child; it’s why I try very hard to listen to and grieve with other people’s experiences of barbaric treatment by Christians, instead of dismissing them as exaggerated or exceptional; it’s why I watched Freier Fall.7 This is the thing I’m bringing to my Catholic faith and life, and it’s a complicated thing. It can’t be shut away from the rest of me as just something I struggle with.

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1Of course, both are true. But trying to outline the exact nuances of each would be like fitting wheels to a tomato: time-consuming and completely unnecessary.
2Among others.
3Pp. 40-41, 67, with minor adaptations.
5I’m not trying to explain exactly what that difference is here—that’s beyond my competence. Still less am I trying to say that there is no variation between people of the same sex, which is a gender theory for lunatics: two given people of opposite sexes may be far more alike than two people of the same sex. I’m only saying that sexual orientation is an orientation to something that really exists—gender—and that isn’t as simple as what shape your pectorals and genitalia have.
6Usually these loves have been unrequited, but, though that has meant they taught me different things from my requited love, I find that they haven’t taught me any less for the difference.
7Excellent film (directed by Stephan Lacant, 2013); warning: butt stuff.


  1. While I find this emotionally compelling, it doesn't seem to answer the question propriety that animates so much of the argumentation around this matter.

    In trying to explain the desire, you describe yourself wanting "someone to fuss over you when you’re sick, someone to bicker with about whether to get a dog, someone to try a new restaurant with, someone whose taste in music is clearly wrong but whose errors you generously tolerate" and imply that, given the innocuous nature of these particular desires that they ought be morally licit. I'm not sure that follows.

    To begin with, the theologically precise terminology the Church uses to describe homosexuality, disordered, means that a licit desire is directed towards an illicit object. I don't see any argument here as to why the desires you bring up here, though licit in themselves just as sex is, aren't rendered illicit by their object, another man.

    You may respond that since there is nothing overtly sexual about these things that they ought to be licit. However, you seem to recognize that the underlying nature of what you're desiring here, different from "a miscellaneous live-in friend," is such that there's an obvious subtext of romance whose ultimate end cannot be satisfied by any of the non-sexual items you're trying to use to fill that void.

    It's not that I take any joy in pointing this out. I want there to be a space for all of these relational goods. I want to "know and be known." I want to believe that my sexuality has not been rendered utterly depraved by homosexuality. However, it seems that every attempt to find a licit space for these things amounts to flirting with the near occasion of sin and the presumption inherent to it.

    1. Well, part of the reason that I haven't answered that question here is that I wasn't trying to; I was only trying to explain what being gay means to me, and why I prefer to talk about it as I do. But to address your concerns.

      In talking about the various non-sexual expressions of the longing for a lover, I wasn't so much trying to talk about liceity versus illiceity of desire. My primary concern was to illustrate that this is not just about sex. Since *most* sins are not sexual (almost all of them, in fact), this doesn't correlate to innocence or degrees thereof. It does involve a difference in *quality,* however, that I feel corrects a misconception I've run into regularly in dealing with people who object to gay language. And, while sex versus not-sex doesn't correspond at all to bad versus good, I do think that the assumption that gay sexuality is all about screwing, without any other elements, is both offensive and harmful, so it's worth endeavoring to correct it.

      Turning now to the question of liceity, I actually *would* be prepared to argue that romantic love from one man to another is not necessarily wrong. This is partly because the only thing that the Church explicitly condemns is indulging in homosexual sex, but it's for other reasons as well, the main one being that I don't believe romantic love is intrinsically directed to marriage. I've written about it before and plan to again, so I'll be brief here, but Dante provides a colossal counter-example to the notion that romantic or erotic love for someone who isn't, and can't be, your spouse is automatically something diseased. Charles Williams points out near the beginning of "The Figure of Beatrice" that marriage between Dante and Beatrice was not only impossible but, as far as we can tell from his writings on her throughout his life, was never a thing he even contemplated; eros was not presumed to be intrinsically connected to marriage at the time, and I think that's because it isn't.

      But of course this isn't a thorough answer. I hope more shall become clear over the course of the series (and naturally I solicit comments either way).

  2. It's interesting you say here now that Eros isn't necessarily intrinsically connected to marriage (I'd agree) but then describe your desire for a romantic life-partnership with a man (obviously more than a miscellaneous friendship) as wanting a "husband."

    I have the same desires you do. But I've never thought of myself as wanting a husband. A "boyfriend" or "partner" or "life partner" definitely. A "lover" even (or a "Beloved".) But I've never felt that "husband" really fit into all this exactly for the reasons you say about Dante and all that.

    Husband as a words sort of makes me cringe. A figure out of a sitcom, not a romance. To me, a husband is something with a wife, and "husbandry" is something practiced by (quite literal) breeders.

    I wonder why you feel otherwise.

    1. Well, when I speak about wanting a husband, I do specifically mean that *I* want a husband -- not that wanting-a-husband is a quality of gay men in general. It clearly isn't, even incidentally. And even my own desire is a rather complicated thing which I don't fully understand. "Husband" is the best word for it, I find; but it's a mixture of a lot of things, most of which are erotic, but not all (and the sex doesn't predominate even in the erotic element). I don't know how closely my desire corresponds to the typical partner-longing of other gay men. I do tend to think, increasingly, that for me *personally* it would make it inordinately difficult to conduct a covenanted friendship with a man who was gay or bi, but that's *my* problem, not a problem of gay men in general.

      As for the word itself, I think it's rather attractive, actually. But I've heard other people complain of it.

  3. I agree, Gabriel: "husband" is a beautiful word. I like husbandman even better and would love to see it recovered for common use (albeit for less lyrical, more conceptual reasons). It's a quintessentially masculine role (one played, of course, by farm wives, shepherdesses, lady gardeners, etc.) Call it coaching, mentoring, etc., it's the calling forth, the careful provocation, the skillful care, the recognition and cultivating of potential, the recognition and heeding of limits and vulnerabilities. In this sense, boys require husbanding to become men, and men need husbanding to thrive. One wonders if your use of the word includes such notions.

    One wonders also whether (and how and to what degrees) your sense of "husband" might relate to traditional practices (more lost even than "husbandman") of 'betrothed friendship' excavated by Alan Bray in "The Friend." (For instance, would you imagine Ambrose St. John, grave-mate of John Henry Newman to have been the Cardinal's "husband"?) One wants to ask the same question about the notions of friendship Ron Belgau is exploring over at

    1. I don't know. It's a very good question, and Eve's book has already whetted my appetite to read Bray, who hadn't been on my radar before. (The closest I'd come before was in reading "Brideshead Revisited," which obviously is *not* very close.) One of the reasons that I was, and in some ways remain, grieved by how brief my one romantic relationship was is that, even in its short span, my boyfriend and I both grew markedly as men. Disentangling the different longings that longing for a husband involves for me personally is a difficult work, and it seemed easier when I had, oh, *concrete matter* to operate upon. Whether it would have proven easier in the event is most likely impossible to know.

  4. Your agrarian images are bucolic Tim, but they're also part of my problem with the word. I'm not a farm animal, and my partner is not either. When there is still a question of breeding, then it makes a little more sense...but even for heterosexuals I prefer "bride and bridegroom" to "husband and wife" (the latter of which is the sort of word I expect to hear after prefixes like "mid-" and "fish-").

    Maybe I'm coming at it from a different place. To me, I've always known being gay was something inherently modern, likely urban, and so something feels terribly affected about trying to fit it in the mold of rural-ish domesticity, or even bourgeois suburbanity, because to me that order is exactly what my homosexuality was a rejection of.

    To me being gay is about the sort of radical egalitarianism represented by a term like partner. "Husband and wife" imply a complementarian notion, and if I was looking for a complement rather than an equal, if I was looking for my other rather than my same...I'd either look for a woman or feel inclined to identify as one myself!

    Which I suppose gets to the heart of my discomfort; being complementarian terminology, to me wanting a husband would imply I was the wife. And that's emasculating to me; frankly at that point I'd prefer saying that *I* was the husband looking for my "boywife" or something like that (but of course that just sounds creepy, and hardly represents the sort of egalitarianism I feel my sexuality implies).

    So maybe we're all back to the fact of *homosexualities* plural...because I barely recognize the homosexuality being described here as at all similar, in its psychological framework, to my own. And honestly, and I say this only to be honest, the one being described here does strike me as more, I dunno, perverse and incoherent, in exactly all the ways that the conservatives always accuse but which I felt my own model proved to be just caricatures and bogeymen. But apparently some gays really do operate according to it, and that makes me, I will admit, profoundly uncomfortable.

    1. "Bucolic." Now there is a word one doesn't encounter in a com-box every day. :)

      I was always rather put off by the term "partner" myself, mostly because it sounds so businesslike. "Lover" was my favorite in some respects, but it doesn't adapt itself well to everyday use ("Hi, I'm Adam, and this is my lover, Steve," which kind of leaves the hearer wondering awkwardly whether the next sentence is going to be "We do butt stuff together.")

      I'm with you about *homosexualities.* I really never thought of my sexuality as a rejection of ... well, anything, and I've always found complementarianism more interesting than, oh, *flat* equality. (I tend to find contrasts in general more interesting than sameness.) One of the reasons I actually do like the term *androphile,* despite its terribly unfortunate associations via suffix, is that it puts the accent where I find it: on liking men. For me that doesn't necessarily imply radical egalitarianism or anything along those lines; "philosophical" homosexuality, as it were, always seemed kind of unromantic to me, and I have always been a romantic at heart, even in my rationalism.

      Yours doesn't make me uncomfortable, but, for the reasons I've stated, it's never been the sort that appeals to me. That said, I can see why the idea of wanting a husband could feel emasculating -- it doesn't to me, because I also want to *be* a husband, but the response makes sense to me.

      I won't try to defend *complementarian homosexuality* as a coherent concept; I don't think it is. Indeed, one of my only internal difficulties with homosexuality has always been the difficulty of reconciling my delight in complementarity (and, indeed, in the bucolic) with my being gay. Not being philosophically bound to *try* to reconcile the two does in one sense make my life simpler, though in all the other senses it's more complicated.

  5. To me partner is a modern form of something like the word "helpmate," which is highly Biblical.

    We can agree on "Lover." Great word, the best word probably, utterly awkward and unusable in public lol.

    I suppose my problem with husband is the incoherence you only further lay out for me here. It is a word with complemtarian connotations, and seems to be liked precisely by those gays who have a complementarian romantic imaginary...but then verbally you wind up necessarily complementing it with itself. Yin and...yin.

    The lover/beloved word-pair again shows its superiority here, as it allows for complementarity on the personal level without, I dunno, *gendering* it. Every lover can also be a beloved, the active/passive roles are fluid. But trying to translate this onto "husband" leaves us with weird ideas like "we're both husband and wife depending on the dynamic of the moment." But of course, few gays want to say they're "also wife," so I'm back to the problem of yang/yang...

  6. My sexuality most definitely was a rejection. I saw in the culture, as a pre-teen, what I would now call something like "Freudian heterosexuality" (or "Woody Allen heterosexuality") and it was so unappealing to me, seemed so mutually objectifying and unsatisfying, that I think this caused me to tend towards homosexuality and the idea of finding "another self."

    Which is why I suppose this notion of "androphilia" disturbs me too, as it seems to objectify maleness (and raise the question of why your own maleness isn't "enough.")

    Because, see, I'm not sure I'm so obsessed with the male. It's just that I want to find someone "like me" and I happen to be a male. Really I'm looking for a "human" it's just that it can't be a female human because the fact of the contrast there would threaten to introduce all the "psychodynamic" symbolism of Freudian-heterosexuality in which the sexual difference in the person-to-person relationship would become entangled with some sort of symbolic transference dynamic and suddenly I'd be treating her as Woman and not herself.

    My homosexuality in its development was very much about rejecting gender roles and gender scripts, because in the older generation that just seemed to cause so much neurosis and unhappiness. Relationships where husband and wife were basically from different planets (hence all the sitcom humor) which to me felt so alienating and unlike real intimacy, because of the constant miscommunication and differences in values and priorities (even when it comes to something like sex itself; I'm attracted to other men in part because I know what men want because I am one! Navigating female sexual ambivalence, on the other hand...not something I envy straight men).

    And then, I suppose because the world hates me, it's turned out that among Millennials (at least the "blues" if not the "reds") this sort of dropping of the strict *gendering* and weird gendered transferences is happening among the heterosexuals and (o me miserum!) it's the gays in my generation who are, as it were, a "generation behind" aping all the weird symbolic gender transferences of the older generations.

    Except in a way that isn't even logically coherent or healthy seeming, because if I were to seek some sort of "symbolic exchange", some sort of transference dynamic, with someone...I'd seek it with a person who had what I didn't. I have maleness of my own. I can understand why "Woody Allen heterosexuals" would seek a woman to provide the feminine in their life, to "balance out" their own half. I think the effort is fraught with constant tension and conflict, and it's sort of "using" the other person to provide a transference fix, but at least I understand why it would make sense. But it just seems very traumatized to me to be seeking psychosymbolic sexual values in someone of the same sex as yourself.

    Basically I understand homosexuality as a way to take the whole question of gender and gender-complementarianism out of the picture. But it makes no sense to me WITHIN that framework, and under such a framework I'd have to agree with conservative objections regarding its psychological health, because it just seems incoherent and delusional at that point...

    1. I don't think being attracted to one sex versus the other is necessarily objectifying. To like something about someone, such as sex, isn't the same as *reducing them to* that liked quality, which seems to me to be the only really useful definition of objectification.

      I'm not much more enamored of Freud than you are (literally or figuratively). The like-me-ness of other males is admittedly appealing, but, as far as I can read my heart, the predominating element in my attraction is delight in men as men, rather than in men as like-me. The idea that I would get masculinity from other men because I feel a lack of it, doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me; I'm sure there are people who do that -- "little miss daddy issues" is a hackneyed stereotype for a reason -- but it doesn't seem to me like it could exhaust someone's orientation. Not if they were psychologically mature, at least. And I've only found my interest in men to increase as I've gotten more confident and comfortable in my identity as a man.

      I think a big part of the reason I find complementarity appealing is that I was raised in a household where it worked, and worked remarkably well. My family had our faults. But blaming things on one sex or the other, power plays, insisting that others (or oneself) stick to predefined gender roles, none of those were among them, even though my mother believed (and still does believe) quite firmly in male headship of the home. (Part of the reason I found this belief so easy to accept was that my father, being a very upright and respectful man, would never have invoked his wife's obedience unless our lives depended on it.) We were *in fact* pretty traditional in behavior, but there was no disguising the fact that we were that way because we were very comfortable with that dynamic.

      Anyway, point is, it gave me a chance from a young age to observe the beauty of a marriage of contrasting strengths. The differing energies* that each sex brings to things do, in my opinion, complement each other more than nicely.

      That said, I wouldn't say I'm attracted to men because I find that they complement me any more than I'm attracted to men because I find them to be the same as me. I don't know if I can analyze it that deeply, honestly. I'm just like, "Hey look, dudes, awesome." Not that I don't find women awesome too, but they don't stir my heart the way men do.

      *I am a Californian.

  7. But isn't that...troubling? That you can't say *why*? My sexuality makes sense to me as part of my values and personality in a way I can explain. Don't you ever wonder if the inability to explain it doesn't maybe suggest there is an explanation there that is...hiding itself for whatever reason?

    1. Not really. To me it'd feel strange to have a sexuality that was completely harmonious with my values from the get-go; not in the sense that I think being conflicted about one's sexuality is a natural or healthy thing, but that I've always thought of it as raw material, and raw material that isn't totally transparent to the intellect. The only ways I can imagine having a perfect harmony between my sexuality and my beliefs would be being asexual, believing that all sexual impulses were automatically good, or choosing whom I was attracted to. And I at any rate am in none of those positions.

  8. You used a photo depicting an intimate embrace between a gay couple in this post. Did you get their permission to use their image as part of a series of blog posts arguing that their relationship is a sin? I very much doubt they would approve.

    1. Well, since I got the photo off the internet, I don't know who those men are, which makes my power of getting their permission pretty remote. (Technically I don't even know that they're gay or a couple, though it seems the likeliest explanation for the embrace; I know only that they are embracing.)

      As to their relationship being a sin, I don't believe that. I believe that *gay sex*, specifically, is a sin; but no relationship worth having can be reduced, morally or emotionally, to the sex it does or doesn't contain. And for that matter, one of my chief reasons for writing this post in particular was to make that point, that delighting in male beauty and having profound, even romantic, affection for another man aren't in my opinion wrong things (a view that, e.g., the Catholic clergy of East Anglia seem to have agreed with when they gave their approval to Dunstan Thompson and Philip Trower, who had been lovers before converting, to continue living together). It's a point I've made in several other posts.

  9. Given that the next photo in the series you took this from without permission is of the couple kissing, I think it's safe to assume their relationship is sexual. You can appeal to arbitrary line-drawing and dissonance to claim you're not demeaning their relationship, but let's get real, you are. I think the couple would agree. I've tracked this image to its source (whining that it's hard is a rather lame copout on your part), and I will try to make the couple aware of the way you've used their image. Expect to hear from them soon.

    1. I don't consider the distinction between love and sex at all arbitrary, personally, though I get the impression I'd have some difficulty persuading you to credit it.

      As to whining and copping out, well, since I don't consider asserting the legitimacy of same-sex romance to be disrespectful, and since (as far as I saw, though of course I may have missed something) the photo wasn't copyrighted, I assumed that my use of it wasn't important enough to merit pursuing its source. Naturally if they ask me to take it down, I will, but for yourself, if you're concerned about justice and respect for LGBT people, I'd assume that literally anything else than cross-examining blog illustrations would be more worth your time.