“Gay and Catholic” Book Extras: A Tiny Post About Marriage and Priesthood

These are topics I left out of the book partly because I wanted to focus on all the less-visible vocations available to lgbt/same-sex attracted Christians–and partly because I just don’t have very much to say here. Never let it be said that I let that stop me! And ETA wow, this got longer than it should have. So, not so tiny after all….

Gay/queer/ssa people do get married, to members of the opposite sex, in ways which don’t fit the stereotype of the terrified closet case or self-deceived “ex-gay.” People are complex and sexuality is weird. My sense is that the “mixed-orientation marriages” (in quotes just because this term was new to me and might be new to you) which are most solid are the ones in which the couple agrees that people are complex and sexuality is weird. They’re honest with one another, and they don’t expect the other person to solve the problem of their soul–or “fix” their sexual orientation.

Kyle Keating and Melinda Selmys contribute to Spiritual Friendship with discussion of their mixed-orientation marriages, and you can get a good round-up of SF writing on this subject here. Melinda’s second book also has some really powerful writing on her challenges within marriage and motherhood, which to me were among the strongest parts of the book.

And now I feel like I’m at the limits of what I can say, as an outsider, so I will just point you to others who speak from experience.

When it comes to religious vocations I’m even more circumspect. The biggest point I want to make is that attempts to bar gay men from the priesthood often rely on one-size-fits-all reifications of “homosexuality.” The most common one I hear is that homosexuality is a form of sexual immaturity which distorts men’s relationship to fatherhood and ability to be a father, and so it makes them unfit to be a Father as well. This is weird on a few levels: every man’s ability to be a father is distorted in some ways by his own psyche, background, and temptations; lots of gay men are good-enough fathers to actual children in their care (and “good-enough” is the relevant term here, not “perfect”); lots of straight priests would have a very hard time parenting, and that’s okay, I mean for most priests in the Western Church it isn’t even their calling.

But the biggest problem for me is just the “Homosexuality is…” part. Both “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” are culturally-created umbrella terms, not theological categories or Aristotelian natural kinds. There are multiple heterosexualities and multiple homosexualities. In order to know what role a man’s homosexuality plays in his psyche, you need to know the actual man, not just the fact that he’s gay or same-sex attracted.

Sexual maturity is about learning to love and serve God and other people with the psyche and body we actually have, not the one we wish we had. Most people have some distortions in our sexuality, caused by some collision of personality and culture, and sexual maturity involves learning to love well whether or not all of these distortions remain or disappear. I bet you plenty of straight priests would agree that their path to sexual maturity did not involve attaining perfect Edenic sexuality, but rather, learning to serve God with honesty about all the ways their sex drives remain weird and distracting and fallen. I bet you plenty of straight married guys would say the same thing.

Sexual immaturity absolutely exists. I’m a lot more confident in talking about immature acts rather than immature people (people can be startlingly immature in some areas and mature in others), but hey, sure: Masturbation is immature. For example. But because we understand that this immature act can spring out of a lot of different urges and lacks in the psyche, rather than coming from one big obvious defect that’s the same for everybody who does it, we don’t make bizarre generalizations about people who masturbate. Ditto sexual fantasy, that creepy Mary Sue-ification of eros. There are plenty of things a candidate for priesthood could say about his experiences of sexual fantasy which would raise red flags, but those things would have to be way more specific than, “I’m sometimes tempted by sexual fantasy.”

The one-size-fits-all model of homosexuality doesn’t even address all the ways homosexuality can distort someone’s psyche and make them not a great candidate for priesthood. By relentlessly sexualizing gay people, this model even misses some of the ways we screw up!

For example, I suspect that some forms or shades of homosexuality are distortions of the longing for friendship. Our culture has made it much easier (especially, but not only, for men) to acknowledge intense, poignant longing for intimacy with another person of the same sex if we construe that longing as sexual rather than non-sexual. Somebody whose homosexuality includes this element may become clingy or overly-dependent on a friend’s approval or attention. The friend himself, or the image of the perfect relationship, may become an idol. (You’ll notice that straight people totally engage in relationship-idolatry too, though it may play out differently in our soulmate-marriage culture.) That’s something which celibate gay people can struggle with, and which could cause a lot of trouble in the hothouse environment of the seminary, monastery, etc.

I know so little about vocations to religious life, really, and I’m aware that I am fumbling around in areas where I am the opposite of an expert. But I will argue that theories of homosexuality don’t help in assessing candidates for priesthood–especially one-size-fits-all, reductive theories. Models of mature sexuality, including people who continue to experience different kinds of temptations but surrender themselves as fully as they can to God, would be more useful in this assessment. Ideally we’d have models of both sublimation and sacrifice of one’s sexual desires, since these are both ways in which celibate priests, monks, nuns etc serve God and others through or with their sexuality rather than in spite of it.


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