Book Meditation: Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay (Part 2)

This is part 2, thinking about Daniel C. Mattson’s Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay. For part 1, now see here.

Parts 3, 4 and 5 of Mattson’s book move in a wide arc from theology to friendship, from love to loneliness. There are ample quotes from his journals, and there are odd moments where I nearly threw the book across the room (and, especially, two places where I wrote “no” in the margins).

Part 3, How to Run the Race: Living Out the Daily Battle for Chastity, saddles up along side part 1 as the best sections of the book, most especially the chapter entitled “The Wisdom and Example of the Saints.” I need to know very little about how they teach gender theory to kindergartners (which is covered in the blogger-voiced part 2) but I need to know a lot more about the saints! This section, citing saints from Cyprian of Antioch and Basil the Great to Ignatius of Loyola and Alphonsus Liguori, is filled with encouragement, and acknowledgement that many of our saints were scoundrels, and not a few of them helped rescue people that make my life seem rather pedestrian. Lots more of this is needed! The Story of St Mary of Egypt, advice from Pope St John Paul, St Francis, St Benedict… St Teresa of Calcutta… there’s so much out there. That this chapter was so short and so good, though, points to what I think was a major failing.

There are no demons in this book; no, nor angels.

In fact, the book seems largely, psychotherapeutic rather than, to coin a term, nousotherapeutic. This follows in the footsteps of many a modern (pardon the language) Western and a few modern Eastern Christian writers who forget the Christian Anthropology taught by the saints. We don’t need Freud, Jung, or any other modern pagans to enlighten the teachings of a Liguori or Loyola. This school of thought seems to treat our temptations as, largely, a psychological issue, and hardly at all as a spiritual malady; always addressed in a mental rather than spiritual way, as in a school of prayer. A good confessor or spiritual director/spiritual father knows that Psychology might get to the root of how this happened, but it won’t fix the who or why as effectively as a prayer against demons who inhabit spiritual wounds, who lurk in dark places in the soul, ready to trip or trigger us. Yet we like to sound modern and scholarly. Even the good Fr Benedict Groeschel in his brilliant “Courage to be Chaste” makes this a mostly psychological and moral issue, rather than a spiritual one. (At one point Groeschel even makes fun of those who used spiritual weapons without seeking a psychological cure, and so fell.)

Our weakness may result from fault lines in our psychological makeup, scored by parents, teachers, bullies, or ourselves. However it takes a Nephew Wormwood or Uncle Screwtape to bring them to full flower and it takes our own willing, human dance to keep them going. The verse that needs to be at the heart of every Christian’s struggle for chastity is Ephesians 6:12: For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Our psychological damage (real enough) or our culture, our nurture, whatever, is nothing until it’s taunted, teased, and bullied out into full on fantasy life (the prideful fantasy of an existence lived contra the plan of Life). I think the author gave himself too much credit in the creation of his mistakes, to be honest. And likewise, it is the angels on our side that help us fight the warfare that leads us to victory. Mattson does advise fasting, prayer, Adoration, and frequent recourse to the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist, but the Church is filled with other weapons for use in this Angelic Warfare. In a how-to book like this there could be nearly half-again as many pages of prayers, novenas, listings of confraternities, prayer groups, etc. (Liturgy of the Hours and the Angelic Warfare Confraternity do get footnotes.)

In part 4, there is a wonderful essay on the language of “Disorder”. It talks about how we are all out of order, how we are all working our way back into God’s pattern for life. I find language of disorder to be liberating. This chapter gave me so very much support in that area! My mind was blown by the passages regarding the human reproductive system. I remember sex ed, where the teacher in Monticello, NY, taught us all the stuff about zygotes, spermatozoa, and all the rest. Yet it never dawned on me until reading this book the the “human reproductive system” is entirely split in two. It’s two three-piston halves of a six-piston engine. It’s an organic system in two parts. I’m sure that’s clear as day to readers who are married, but welcome to my brain. My grasp of the Church’s teaching (following Aristotle as much as Moses) that function follows form, that form dictates telos, that the shapes and meaning of bodies are self-evident, was just abstract to me until I read that passage. Recognizing disorder also results in hope – for order, for direction.

The passages on friendship were, again, autobiographical and I did recognize some of my own missteps. But the blogger’s voice returned here. The reader felt sorry for the friend (the pseudonymous Jake) who seems to have endured rather a long friendship with the author and also gets to endure it again in the reading of the book. I was happy to learn so much about my own mistakes, but I felt sorry for Jake that he was made to be the Example. (Unless Jake is a hybrid of several people…)

There was a chapter on loneliness. I didn’t identify very well here, so, maybe I’m not as introverted as I thought, or maybe I’ve just gotten used to it, or maybe I’m in denial. But alone time, for me, is different from loneliness. The author shares some very painful moments, some very jarring images of emotional pain. I nearly tossed the book away when he compares this to a story from a Nazi concentration camp and learning to “offer it up” for the salvation of the world. It was at that point in reading that I began to wonder uncharitably if there would ever be a spiritual cure here.

Today (Thursday, as I write), coincidentally, I listened to a Byzantine Catholic priest in a podcast talk about getting away from his loneliness by taking all the money in his wallet and buying McDonalds gift cards and giving them away to strangers on the street. I remember a priest in confession telling me to get out of the house, to go to the park, to just sit there and be with people. The cure for loneliness is love: self-giving to other people; to will the good of another. I feel the walls of loneliness closing in on me when I listen to music in my headphones as a way to avoid talking to homeless people. Open up, give, share. It’s the cure.

The author is happy in church, but he talks very little about it. It comes up in the acknowledgements, so I know he’s doing it! But the Church is also the cure here. St John Paul reminds us

For those who have no natural family the doors of the great family which is the Church – the Church which finds concrete expression in the diocesan and the parish family, in ecclesial basic communities and in movements of the apostolate – must be opened even wider. No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who ‘labor and are heavy laden.’
Pope St John Paul II Familiaris Consortio

So I think there’s a challenge here – to elicit more writing from Mr Mattson. He’s come so far, and there’s so much more to do! There’s the Rosary and daily mass, there’s mens fellowships and choir. There’s a whole spiritual side to this battle that I think he’s using that wasn’t in the book. I’m leery of over-psychologizing this: that’s the weapons of the other side. We have entire armies of majestic fear and disarming beauty on our side. Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha. (2 Kings 6:17) and we have a cloud of witnesses around us. We are never alone in this battle.

I’m getting off track. I want to close with this other thought… there’s a temptation to cave into the cultural war.

Christians are seemingly aligned with one or another side of this war, but I don’t think that’s right. Our battle is not with flesh and blood. It’s certainly not with political parties or politicians. When we let our writing (about chastity, about liturgy, about whatever…) get suckered into the political sphere, we are in danger of losing our prophetic voice. There is only one illustration in Mattson’s book. If a random reader were to pick this up in a bookstore and flip through, it’s likely that that one illustration would catch their eye – it’s the rather controversial sheet explaining gender theory to young kids. Our hypothetical shopper will, likely, judge the whole book on page 99. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. I sold an article once to Touchstone Magazine. It became the go-to thing for a time, as far as SSA was concerned. It was edited to avoid the context of a then-recent Episcopal Election in Massachusetts, and turned into a full-on broadside against the gay movement. At the time I didn’t care: cuz I got published! But later, I regretted it. Once in awhile I used to get an emails about it, but they are all some version of “See, I knew we were right…” and I think, “I never reached anyone with this, only confirmed people’s hate.”

Preaching to the choir is much easier than preaching to the Areopagus. But the latter is what is needed.

When we realize that our sins are our own dance with the devil, when we realize that our family, God’s Church, stands ready to help us, we finally have very little time to worry about the people we used to sin with save as regards their souls. In those cases, Bishop Barron is right: leading with “Disorder” may not be the best thing.

Right at the end, I wrote “no” again in the margin. The author seems to be saying “this world sucks and as soon as I can get out I can get to heaven.” No. No. No.

A quadrillion times, No.

We’re here because we have work to do. We’re here because we have to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. We’re here because we need to love, more and more and more until that love becomes a fire that consumes us and we merge into the fire of God. We’re here to be the fire that consumes the world in love. We are here to struggle against whatever our passions are so that we can learn to love first, in spite of them, then, eventually, to their cure.

One Lent, reading the Life of St Mary of Egypt in the Matins service devoted to her (in the Byzantine rite), I broke down. Another reader had to jump in and read for me. Mary realizes she spent years leading others astray. Having made that realization she prayed for them and their salvation. I’m not quite there yet, but that’s where the road to healing lies. We can’t go there if we buy into the Cultural War language of us against them which pits humans against humans. There is an us, and there is a them. We are all the humans whom God loves so much he became one of us: them are the demons. Full stop.

Three quarters of this book was so good that I want more of it. I imagine the one-quarter that seemingly caters to “our side” in the Culture War will get quoted more, though. Stuff in the one quarter needs to be said, sometimes; but I think of how little anger one can hear is when certain clergy talk about sexual sins as compared to the anger I nearly always hear coming from people in the middle of this path. We need to wait until we can speak like St Mary of Egypt.

May she pray for us.

Book Meditation: Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay (Part 1)

TL;DR – Good book. Although I’ve some style issues in Part 2 and 4, all the parts are all engaging and thought provoking. All parts, too, are educational both in a spiritual way (if you want to be a faithful RCC) and in a “getting inside the mind of” way if you don’t want to be RCC at all. Excellent as a spiritual guide for the faithful, this book would also be a strong placement alongside other works with differing POV in a group discussion setting in or outside the RCC. 

Back in 2014, reviewing Eve Tushnet’s Gay and Catholic, I took issue with her ascribing a sense of beingness to her sexuality. It seemed to me that Eve’s approach was “I am this way, and now I have to live – still being this way – into the Church’s rules.” Reading with her filter in place, it was easy for me, from outside the Roman Church, to interpret all of RCC teaching the same way. My objection to this line of thought as posted in that review was:

I “am” gay because I like sex with guys as I “am” a carnivore because I love bacon. I can be a vegetarian – but I’d still love bacon. I can even be an “ethical vegan”, opposed to the anthropocentric use, objectification, and slaughter of other living creatures – but still admit that the taste of bacon is one that I love. I “am” gay rather as I love bacon. It’s fun. It’s a preference, but it doesn’t mean I am gay in my being.

My essential response was “I am Orthodox and a sinner.” (You can read: Review part 1 and Review part 2 if you wish.)

Now I’m Catholic, and it is largely because of a group that I met at that time, ironically, as a result of reading Eve’s book. I discovered that Eve’s tack isn’t really all of the RC’s teaching. This doesn’t surprise me: I’m a convert too.

This idea that one is gay the way one used to be considered male, or white, or 53 years old seems to be common. In fact in a culture where much of what used to pass for “identity” seems fluid, orientation is given an oddly concrete status. It is also rather recent and socially constructed – as people from Foucalt, to Paglia have pointed out. What we do with this sense of being we have, though, that’s the important part.

Into this conversation now comes Daniel C. Mattson with his wonderful and challenging Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay. It is the spiritual autobiography of a man trying to live faithful to authentic Christianity’s teaching on sexuality – towit, that sex as a vibrant and powerful gift from God, is intended to be rightly used in one context, and outside of that context it is not only wrong in a moral and spiritual way but also harmful to the human person.

Liber est omnis divisa in partes quinque.

The whole book is divided in five parts, but I’ll address the review in two posts. Here parts 1 and 2, then there will be another post on parts 3, 4, and 5. In defence of this division, I note that Parts 2 & 4 are the ones I had trouble with so that will divide these two posts into “some good/some bad”. And I do not want, in any way, for the discussion of the bad to eclipse the good.

Mad props for getting Robert Cardinal Sarah to write the foreword! In the front matter, the book raises a crucial issue: Cardinal Sarah and Fr Paul Check (writing in the introduction) both point out that we need a Church that moves along side of those who are struggling. Tushnet points this out as well. Two of my brothers in Christ recently punched a hole in my gut talking (also in two parts) about the compassion that Catholics need to feel along side these struggles (The Catholic Man Show, Episode 61, and Episode 62). A recent movie, called “The Third Way” did this as well. It does my heart good to feel not-alone, but fully a part of the Body of Christ in ways that mere denial or mere affirmation never allowed me to feel.

Part 1 is the most autobiographical. It’s the story of a boy conceived on the night of the first Moon Landing (I rather like that story more than mine, which involves the weekend of the JFK assassination, but anyway…) and who grows up feeling lost among boys and men who are athletic and jocular, easy going with themselves, confident and outgoing with women. His own sense of inadequacy was such that he got turned in on himself.

It continues with him sexualizing these feelings, and then finding ways to express those sexualized feelings. Once the feelings get sexualized, then it becomes only a matter of finding ways to express them.

It’s worth a read: I had the exact same experience. All the way through I was like “um, wow.”  And the same story came up again in another place recently, a film. So alike were Daniel’s story to the other story that I had to jump to the film’s credits to see if this were not the same guy! There may be a number of reasons for having these feelings, but “Falling for the guy I want to be” and then sexualizing it seems to be the most common one. It also explains why some men get locked into dating the same aged guys over and over again: that’s the age that one wants to be, wants to be for ever, that one keeps trying to “fix”.

There were a couple of places where my experience parted from Mattson’s path, most notably in his adult attempts at dating women (which I stopped trying to do in college – even then hurting dear friends). Also, I had the departure from the Church phase, coming back at about the same time as the author, although I only had anger at the Church – in a real sense – for a couple of years in my darkest occult phase. Still, the author’s stories of flipping the finger at a church made perfect sense – and I’ve seen others do it as well whenever they passed a church.

The sense of disempowerment in the World of Men becomes, itself, the driving force. Although Daniel is not going to get to this phase (or if he did, he didn’t discuss it), the inadequacy and downward spiral can continue, until – far from eroticising the men you wish you were like – you end up eroticising the inadequacy itself. You stop acting the role of the class clown, the jokes on me, look I’m about to swing a bat… and you end up playing the class fool: go ahead, beat me up, please.

I found this first part as valuable in understanding the spiritual journey as I found parts of Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain and for much the same reason: it underscores that no one has a unique story. There is only one story, with variations on the theme. In my pride I want to be the only one. But really, we all have the same story. It only takes the breaking of a rare few things to result in the same scars, the same inflection, the same inversions, as they used to call it. Reading this story though, was earth-shaking. Each moment of “What, you too?” was like a brick gone from my wall: not a loss, for it was never a gain, but still, an absence to be filled by Grace. When the whole wall is gone, then I’ll be dead… but it will be a pretty bridge.

The second part, though, I wrestled with. As a blogger I can hear the blogger’s voice. This is not a voice for putting thoughts in print. In fact if it had continued for much longer I would have put the book down and written a bad review never realizing there were other parts to read. To my mental ears, this part is Daniel’s “I was in Hell” moment. It’s his chance to say how unsatisfactory the gay world was. I get that. My experience though is this anger is like admitting one has had sex with an astronomical number of people: it may be true, but the left doesn’t care and the right only cares for the scandal. Yes, the idea of “Coming out” is all empty promises. But so what? This seems to be the part of the book written for other people – not for people struggling with church teaching on sex, but people who want to be scandalized or at least titillated about people not wanting to live that way. It’s the part that will sell the book to people who don’t really care about a collection of struggling Christians, but do want to feel superior to them. This is the part I imagine I’ll hear quoted in certain circles – this part and part 5. I’ll discuss this more, though, in the second post. Part 2 is not the longest part, though. I agreed with most things said, but it’s the tone. (I begin to think tone is everything in Evangelism.)

What else can a book about the sexual teachings in the Church be, but evangelism? As I said, this would be a good book in a discussion group with different points of view. But this book raises some interesting issues – especially in the “this is my life” portion. These are not all comfortable questions, perhaps, for the author. I’ll get to them later. But – vague spoiler – here’s where I think there is a huge difference between several sorts of books in this genre. They fall on a spectrum:

1) I hate this. I love God.
2) I hate this. I hate God.
3) I love this. I hate God.
4) I love this. I love God.

Each category then asks different questions. All four category can be written with one of four endings:

1) Yes-Gay Yes-God
2) Yes-Gay No-God
3) No-Gay No-God
4) No-Gay Yes-God

Eve Tushnet’s book falls into category 3 with something of a 1-4 Hybrid ending. Mattson seems to be a Category 2 with a 4 ending.

I don’t think that’s good evangelism, but it is a good part of mystagogy, the after- initiation teaching. Tushnet’s book was good evangelism in that it’ll get you through the door.

I have not yet talked about the title of the book – but the title is why I bought it. In 1995 or 96 I was getting off the N train at 42nd Street with my housemate, Ray. Ray was explaining to me why he didn’t feel a part of anything called the gay community. “Basically,” he said. “The only thing we have in common is what we like to do in bed. And, really, we don’t even have that…” It was a throwaway line that I ruminated on for nearly a decade. We have nothing in common. Wait, if there is no gay community, is there a gay? And all through college and on into adult life, I met well adjusted folks – most of whom were also attracted to the same sex – who said things like “I don’t want to be called gay” and “I hate gay as a noun”.

The fact that most all of these people were “Teh Ghey” – and sexually active, etc – but yet didn’t want to be using the word was interesting to me. And, like I said, made me examine my own thoughts, words, and deeds in this area. There are some that might say most of those folks suffered from some sort of internalized self-hate, but I’m not a psychotherapist and I don’t want to diagnose people based on my level of Psych 101 at NYU.

I did feel uncomfortable reading parts of Mattson’s book. There were places where he sounded remarkably sound, able to navigate the nuances of a person working out his salvation in fear and trembling. And there were places where he sounded simply hurt and angry. I found myself in those places saying, “I’m not sure what went wrong here, but you don’t seem to be telling the whole story.” Like in Seven Storey Mountain where Merton never comes clean about fathering a child… but notes his life was a mess sexually. I don’t want Mattson to do a kiss and tell chapter, or write out a true confession of his life, but the Bio Part seems a bit short, to be honest, and a bit light on the workings. Has much as I loved it, I wished there had been more.

That would be evangelism, I think. And it would be the blogger’s voice rightly used. It may also require a different life pattern – one where “This felt really good” was a thing. I think of St Mary of Egypt, really.  Although, later in life, she realized she had made a grave error – earlier it was not that way. And she was honest about it not being that way. I don’t think she laughed or bragged, but she was honest that the younger girl was not prone to really care about morality.

Daniel Mattson’s story might work for some while St Mary of Egypt’s story works for others.  I hope there’s a “Gay St Mary” out there… forgive my phrasing.

In the second posting on this book I will discuss parts 3, 4, and 5. Which I think are the spiritual fruit of Mattson’s labor in some ways – and quite well done in all ways.

That’s for reading – part 2 is here.

Gay and Catholic – A Reflection – 2nd

Before meditating on Eve’s topic of friendship, a brief excursus on vocation: one is tempted to say “we don’t do this in Orthodoxy” but that line is to fake. Generally, though, there isn’t much discussion of a “Call” to the priesthood, a vocational idea unheard of in the saints. Thus there is no parallel lay idea of “well what’s my calling?” Eve’s reflections on vocation – while not using Orthodox language – are very helpful.  As she described her work in a pregnancy center with other women and how this was her vocation, I felt very much as if I’d found a soul-sister walking a parallel path to my own, once described as “Tech Support as a Spiritual Path.”

We are all called to work out our salvation in fear and trembling.  For most of the history of the church for most of the people that means as laity. For my salvation, however, God has used people like Father Joseph to help me work out my salvation and his in a relationship. It is in relationship that our salvation is made to happen. The Church’s relationship is hierarchical, structured. It is one of authority and love. Like a marriage.

When Layman X is working out his salvation it may gradually dawn on him – as St John Bosco (Roman Catholic) once said – ordination is absolutely necessary for him to work out his salvation. That’s not the idea of “vocation” that I hear usually in today’s discussions and it’s not the idea that I hear in Eve’s book. It is, however, despite John Bosco being RC, the idea in Orthodoxy. (I first heard this line in 1984 or 85, so forgive me if I have the attribution wrong! Was it the Cure D’Ars?) When a community is together working out their salvation they come to the realization that you are the right priest for them. This happened to some saints, chased all over town by the parish demanding their ordination. You might say that’s a call! But it’s a rare thing. It’s a near-fantasy for someone who wants to have their ego gratified by having the Church “Call” them to the priesthood. My first realization that I wasn’t called at all was a phone call from a priest saying “I don’t think you’re called to the priesthood, but I’d love to serve a liturgy with you as a deacon.”  As I felt my ego deflate the escaping noxious smell made me realize this had all been some ego game.  I had never been  “Called” and I wasn’t using this to work out my salvation.

So, for Orthodoxy (generally), we all know our vocation: working out our salvation in fear and trembling. We do have various tools and the selection of those tools falls to you and your Spiritual Father or Mother. The hypostatic freedom of the laity means you have a lot of power in that relationship: it’s not one of “obedience” like it would be if you were a monastic although some converts (clergy and laity) act like it is.

Much of the book is about Eve finding a vocation, a second reason this book is not about “Gay and Orthodox” is we don’t have vocations as such.  God is not “calling me” to have spent 25 years as a Customer Service agent of one sort or another, but rather, after being in Customer Service for that long, has it helped me get saved? Are your choices furthering your salvation?

It is this same approach that would be used for Orthodox who wanted to explore Eve’s friendship model.

In Middle School and High School friendships were the end all and be all of my life.  Ditto in the Fraternity in College.  Because of my fraternity experience, I recognized Eve’s discussion of “Vowed” friendships as creating these familial bond (“In Vinculis” or “In the bonds” is how we sign fraternal communications). That’s a vowed kinship that holds, in the common law tradition, a more valid claim on one’s life than even blood.  A legal relationship by verbal ro written contract made a “real” relationship more than hearts or spirits.  An adopted child is, in some real, legal ways, more my child in common law than a child born in my marriage.  A choice is made and affirmed in law.  It is the same as or even stronger than marriage.

After college, I had housemates – six of us in Astoria, 10 or so in Asheville until I shared an apartment with Todd, 14 in Buffalo, 3 – 8 of us here in SF, until I moved into my own apartment.  Now, if I want social life I have to leave the flat and go to the Church, the Office or, maybe, the Elks’ Lodge.  There are volunteer options through work and the parish (and the Elks) but my circle of friends as such is a lot smaller now than it used to be.  Eve’s book called me to fix that: to take actions that would send me out into the world in socially and spiritually salvific ways.

Any relationship must be approached as “Salvific or Not”.  I read recently a response to Eve’s book that questioned her about her willingness to enter into close personal friendships – even committed ones – with non-Christians. I thought I saw a link to that article on Eve’s Twitter feed and maybe I was wrong – I’ve lost that article. But it took her to task for suggesting that a friendship with a non-believer could be a valuable as one with a believer.  Asking, again, the question about working out my salvation, I will note: there are some relationships within the Church that are salvific.  And some that are not.  There are some relationships outside of the Church that are salvific.  And there are some that are not.  One good thing at least: a non-believer will not join me in an engrossed gossip session about Church politics.

Eve confronts some issues that I recognize. The fear of  being so lonely that on is in danger of “being eaten by our cats” is one that made my day.  There are other, more serious dangers, though: the desire to be first, the desire to be exclusive, the temptation to get sexually involved, and the urge to make this friendship as much like a marriage as possible.  These are things I’ve done, getting jealous of straight male friends falling in love, getting married, etc.  See the earlier reflection about the imbalances caused by this particular weakness. There are too many TV shows and melodramas about same-sex attracted men and women who get married in their heads to their boss or their best friends and then go on murderous rampages.  For what it’s worth, I’ve known a straight girl who ruined an entire office having a fake relationship with her boss.  I’m sure it was news to him.

Eve’s advice in these situations is invaluable and very Orthodox: yes, you will. So buck up and don’t do it again. We are human beings and we are prone to failure.  Can you be saved?  Yes. This failure of a friendship, right here, is what God has given you to use for that. We sin. Our very sins, through confession and forgiveness, become the rungs of our personal Ladder of Divine Ascent.  In Orthodoxy even our Death is part of God’s toolkit for our salvation.  But how will we use it, that’s the question we have to ask.

Eve doesn’t address what do to with a few sorts and conditions of people: the ex who doesn’t understand, the other party that wants to get into your pants (even deeply in love). Internet porn. She does address anonymous sex, but, truth be told, while I hate bringing sex to confession it is more embarrassing to admit that I don’t hate confessing my anger, my judgementalism, my snobbishness. There are lots of books that address that sort of stuff, of course, but there are huge amounts of time when that’s way more important to my life than my perceived or imagined (lack of) sex life.  It is good to note, however, that Eve’s advice works here too: yes, you will. So buck up and don’t do it again. We are human beings and we are prone to failure.

I’m not sure but I don’t think Eve address the reactions of her gay friends. Do they feel judged? Do they still exist as friends?

In today’s vernacular we are inclined to ask about a religious or political community “Are they Gay Friendly?”  We ask that as if everyone knows instantly what we really mean.  We don’t draw lines though. We’re looking for a nice religious (or political) commitment that won’t prevent me from doing what I’ve been doing. The liberal church that does gay marriages but balks at the member who has a different “Partner” every couple of weeks or live-in “Friend” every six months or so will be branded as “not gay friendly.” The meaning is, “Can I be a member of that community and do whatever the heck I want?”  Orthodoxy, like Catholicism is not Gay friendly in that meaning. There are persons who are members of the Orthodox Church who are attracted to members of their own sex.  There are members of the Orthodox Church who are attracted to members of the Opposite Sex.  There are members of the Orthodox Church who are attracted to members of both sexes.  But: if you want to use sexual expression as a tool in working out your salvation, you may only do it that (in the Orthodox Church) within the confines of a sacramental marriage. So, no: you cannot do whatever the heck you want.

If you ask an Orthodox writer or speaker, “can gays be saved?”  The answer is yes but not really because there are no class of persons in God’s language. There are persons. So then if you ask “Can that lesbian, over there be saved?”  The answer is “mind your own business”.  Ask rather, “Can I be saved?”  The answer is always yes.  But that’s not the important question:  “What must I do to be saved?” is the only question worth asking. Who are you? You don’t need to search out a special vocation, just look around your life. Your identity is not an individual act but rather a social creation of a communion of persons. Where do you stop and “others” begin? These are the people, these are the things, these are the choices God has given you – all of you – to get saved.

I read Eve Tushnet’s Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith to explore the commonalities in our faith and living out those faiths.  By way of shorthand  I might explain, well, “I’m not Catholic and I’m not gay either.”  I’m a sinner in the Orthodox Church. Such technicalities aside, though: I find Eve’s reflection to be very helpful in sparking my own parallel reflections.  If I were to write such a book about being the sinner I am within the Orthodox church I might draw on many of the same sort of experiences and friendships used for the same sort of healing. While I wouldn’t use the same sort of languages, I would be moving to the same ends. Our struggle to live our faith in a world increasingly unfriendly to that process of salvation. In my head Fr Joseph’s Defeating Sin (I have not yet read Fire from Ashes which arrived from Amazon with the current volume) and Fr Meletios’ Steps of Transformation address some of the same sort of material, they are more general. Gay and Catholic is well written for persons dealing with a specific sort of temptation. It’s not about the theology or the teachings of the faith which are taken as a given, but rather about how to be faithful.  That it is written by someone who also is living the same sort of ascetic struggle (podvig, jihad) makes it very valuable for me.

Gay and Catholic: A Reflection – 1st

When he saw I was reading Eve Tushnet’s Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith a friend commented, “I can’t understand why you’re reading that: you’re Orthodox.” Of course he said that without fully understanding the differences or similarities between the two Churches: and in the area of “Teh Gay” they are very similar indeed. While Orthodoxy doesn’t say we are “intrinsically disordered”  (or even use the same sort of legalistic language) our Church is quite clear

Homosexuality is to be approached as the result of humanity’s rebellion against God, and so against its own nature and well-being. It is not to be taken as a way of living and acting for men and women made in God’s image and likeness… Those instructed and counseled in Orthodox Christian doctrine and ascetical life who still want to justify their behavior may not participate in the Church’s sacramental mysteries, since to do so would not help, but harm them.
OCA Encyclical on Marriage, Family, Sexuality, and the Sanctity of Life

So I read Gay and Catholic because I live in the same world as Eve: a same-sex attracted person living in a community that asks celibacy of all members not living within the bonds of Sacramental Marriage (between one man and one woman).  The Orthodox Church’s primary argument is for salvation – is this thing salvific, ie, will it lead to the salvation of this person here.  While that may sound way more liberal than the legal language of disorder, the Church’s teaching is clear: giving in to same-sex attraction as with all temptation is a result of a breakdown in the image of God.  Please note: this is not a commentary on Same-Sex Attraction, per se. Being so tempted is not a sin. We are all sinners.  The same encyclical letter cited above counsels Same-Sex Attracted people to “…seek assistance in discovering the specific causes of their homosexual orientation, and to work toward overcoming its harmful effects in their lives.” Notice we’re not urged to “get fixed” or “become straight” but rather to overcome the harmful effects. It is in seeking that, that I read this book.

Eve’s linking of her experience as a Lesbian with her Alcoholism was joy to read.  Not that one caused the other, but rather that she saw the parallels.  Her healing process on one topic parallels the other. This was something I learned working in a  rehab clinic in North Carolina. The OCA document as well, seems to agree, saying, “People with homosexual tendencies are to be helped to admit these feelings to themselves and to others who will not reject or harm them.” It’s like the first step of a twelve step process.  You have to admit there’s an issue to fix before you can work on it. Eve see’s coming out of the closet – being public with her same-sex attraction – as an important step.  But it is at this point (which was about 2/5 of the way through the book) that something began to change in my reading.  I’m not sure if it was there for Eve or just me.

Any reaction to a book will have good and bad spots: I only had a couple of issues with the book, but I think they are major ones. I want to say here, first – before going into the bad – that I loved the rest of the book.  Enjoy the “controversy” but don’t miss the rest of the reflection!

I really have a huge problem with saying “I am gay”.  I’m not saying I stay in the closet – I’m certainly out in every part of my life where I have any control over it.  But I think the reality is that I “feel” gay: not that I “am” gay.  I know that some groups are always trying to pin homosexuality on genetics which would make it like eye color and even more hardwired than race, but sexuality as we understand it in the first world really is a first world problem. History seems to indicate that people with same-sex attraction got married and were culturally straight all their lives with little or no harm.  It’s only today with our focus on individuality and “freedom” (meaning, rather, license) that we allow for and expect people to act on every little feeling they have inside.  I “am” gay because I like sex with guys as I “am” a carnivore because I love bacon.  I can be a vegetarian – but I’d still love bacon.  I can even be an “ethical vegan” opposed to the anthropocentric use, objectification and slaughter of other living creatures – but still admit that the taste of bacon is one that I love.  I “am” gay rather as I love bacon.  It’s fun. It’s a preference, but it doesn’t mean I’m gay in my being.

And there lies the rub, I think:  why I’m not “Gay and Catholic” but rather just the first of sinners and Orthodox.

There is a huge discussion among those who wish to live the Christian life as to what language to use: am I queer?  Am I gay?  Am I homosexual? Am I Same-Sex Attracted?  I agree with Eve that I do, in fact, experience my sexuality as a huge part of my life.  It has, really, driven my choices of friends, my living situations and even my job choices for much of my life.  But: is that the way it’s supposed to be?  Or are these choices and other things some of the harmful effects in my life?  Honestly, this is where language of “intrinsic disorder” may come in handy. A Roman Catholic document on ordaining celibate gay men explained that there is some sort sexual malfunction going on that may, in fact, result in social failure as well.  I know that some of my closest and dearest friendships (off line and on) have begun with me saying “Whoa, he’s cute.”  It’s taken me nearly 50 years to learn how to develop friendships with women.  But I don’t know – I don’t know at all – if this is because I’m sexually attracted to men or because I have spent a huge portion of my life acting on that attraction. I don’t know if the same social failures happen for women, but I do know of the reverse stereotypes and, to be honest, Eve’s book seemed at moments (to a male reader) to display and even justify some of them.

Eve is supported in her choices by other parts of the internet: many people on my twitter feed are not just “same sex attracted” but are “gay”.  Spiritual Friends blog seems to agree here.  I am aware of Roman Catholic clergy who feel that “being” gay offers some specific gifts for ministry. Even the Roman Catholic teaching on same sex attraction, including the “intrinsic disorder” position seems in some readings to indicate some “beingness” to gayness.  (I don’t want to get corrections from Theologians on this: I know that the teach of the RCC says that any sex outside of marriage is disordered.)  This is another reason I am not Catholic and yet another place where, legal language aside, Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism agree.  But the quoted document on sexuality says that this is not part of my nature.

Eve and others argue that her gayness has provided blessings in her life. I don’t doubt that – I can confirm the same feeling about things in my life – but that is not a quality of goodness: it is rather a quality of God. God will always take what we offer in thanksgiving and return it to us filled with grace.  It doesn’t mean that that very thing is not broken.  There are whole websites devoted to how to bake communion bread for the Byzantine liturgy.  These sites advise that no oil should be used, no milk, no lard, no sugar,  nothing other than yeast, flour, and salt. That these pointers have to be made (one site describing even the visible effects of such inclusions) means that some Orthodox baker has at least at times made bread with them.  No worries: the Body and Blood of Christ were communicated in that liturgy.  It just wasn’t optimal.  Ditto gay: I’m not worried about God being able to bless me.  It’s just not optimal. Something is Broken.  God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness, though.

How we got here and what to do with “here” are all up for grabs and I think (perhaps) Eve and I disagree. But having decided not to stay here, Eve and I agree.  Having opted for submission to the teachings of the Church on human sexuality, how to move forward Eve offers a painfully honest – and joyful – assessment of the life we have chosen to live.

Eve confronts the very few options available for the celibate man or woman in the Church today: where to live, what to do.  While I am with Eve on this, I know there are some of my fellow churchmen who feel there are only two “really Orthodox” options available for a “really Orthodox” person, Marriage or the Monastery. While there is no justification for that from the saints or from history, I do want to point out that for some Orthodox including some clergy, the conversation stops here.  “You’re not getting married, then go away.”  Convents and Monasteries thus become a place to send all the troublesome folks.  My only comment here is that sending me to a house filled with bearded single men throws a hundred red flags on the play. Sending all  the gays to the same place seems too stereotypical. I have also read at least one Orthodox writer who insists there were never any homosexual men in “really Orthodox” monasteries.  Both extremes seem wrong to me, and the question of monasticism as salvific has to be answered in each individual context.

Eve assumes we’re going to live in the world at some point.  She asks questions about our social life, about our jobs, about volunteer work.  She wonders if the “nuclear” families at the parish might open up to include singles.  In Orthodoxy this is a given in some ways: when you ask someone to be a godparent they become a part of your family.  There are even words in Greek and Russian for the relationship.  In Russian tradition there are even words for the relationship between me and the godmother of my godchild as well as his parents.  Kum (male) and Kuma (female) are consanguineous, at least as it was explained to me.  Anyway, godparent/godsiblinghood are ways to expand the family.  In traditional cultures, of course, back in the Orthodox “Homeland”, the extended family was a real thing, including not only blood relations but servants and feudal obligations, social contacts and ecclesial commitments.

Here in America, however, we may only have an option for close friendships: and Eve spends a long time discussing these.  This reflection, however, has gone on long enough. I will get to her idas about friendships in part two!