as a faithful Catholic wrestling with SSA:
At the end of your post “an-interesting-letter-from-a-gay-reader” you said you “would be particularly interested in hearing from gay readers who are attempting to live as a Catholic disciple of Jesus” so I thought I would share my perspective.
It is difficult for me to speak about because I fear the reactions from the “conservative Catholic inquisitors”, “the unchaste”, and others who promote homosexuality. I believe, though, that if more and more people like me, who experience homosexual attractions start speaking up we can spread more hope. I’ll start with a brief account of my story so you know where I’m coming from.
I have experienced homosexual attractions since I remember having sexual feelings. Even before then I remember a longing that though, pre-sexual, was probably the same thing. It felt natural, like I was just made ‘this way’ and was always ‘this way’. When I was 23, I reverted to the Church. I began to love Her teachings and began learning everything I could about what She taught and how to live it. I was fully committed to Jesus through Holy Mother Church. But there was this problem of the homosexual desires that felt “natural” to me. Why would God make me ‘this way’ if the behavior is wrong? I found the Courage Apostolate in my city and this pretty much saved my life. I had loved Holy Mother Church but had been torn apart by not living Her teachings and the apparent contradiction that God would make me ‘this way’. I found other men and woman at Courage who wanted to live chaste lives and be disciples of Christ who also experienced homosexual attractions.
After a few years of Courage meetings, I felt like there was something still not right. I heard Christopher West say, “Christ did not come to give us coping mechanisms for our sins, but to redeem us.” Well, if that is true, and the Church teaches that homosexual attractions are disorders, and if the Church’s meaning of disordered desires is the same as a disordered desire to eat too much, gossip, or any other manifestation of concupiscence, then maybe I wasn’t born/made ‘this way’. After all, “male and female He created them”.
I did some research and found NARTH. Then I found other like-minded men who believed that homosexual attractions can be reduced and in some cases eliminated. It has been 7 years since I started reparative therapy and other things to reduce and/or eliminate my homosexual attractions. It has worked; better than I would have ever hoped for. It has literally saved my life.
Reparative therapy is not really about change, but about becoming what I already am. A man. As I approach human perfection, all manifestations of concupiscence will diminish, including my homosexual attractions. I found that holding on to a ‘gay’, ‘homosexual’, ‘ssa’, or ‘gay Catholic and okay with it’ identity was incongruent with living a spiritual life. Sure, I may still have homosexual attractions and my keep having them until the last second of Purgatory, but that doesn’t mean that I am ‘gay’. I am a man, not a gay man, not an ssa man, not a straight man for that matter; I’m a man. Since baptism leaves an indelible mark on my soul then I am a Catholic man.
My homosexual attractions no longer plague me and are drastically reduced. In fact, I only have them when I’m tempted to lust or am in fact lusting. This is much, much different than before because now it feels like lust and before it felt natural. Now when I feel homosexual attractions they feel ‘wrong’. Not the moral kind of wrong but more like a hunger craving for junk food. Yeah, I could eat the junk food and feel full but not satisfied or nourished; that kind of wrong. I experience chaste heterosexual attractions and, though I never expected it, I now long to spend my life with a women and even doing what man and woman do to become mother and father together. Sure, if I lust, it is for men. Should I make it a goal to lust after women? No. I already experience chaste heterosexual desire for women (though even 3 years ago I thought it was impossible) so why don’t I just keep taking the lust to the foot of the cross and work on that? That is what I’m doing, and thanks be to God, it is working.
That is my brief story. These are my positions:
- Homosexual attractions are mutable; they can be changed.
- Homosexual attractions are just another manifestation of concupiscence and so at some point on the path to Christian perfection, even if that is in purgatory, they will disappear.
- It is not necessary to seek to change homosexual attractions to live a rich, spiritual life. Seeking chastity, (avoiding sin and the near occasion of sin) is all that is required.
- Some may have other virtues they want/need to grow in and, since they are living a chaste life, don’t have a need to make changing homosexual attractions a priority.
- No reparative therapy can be shame based. Anyone who will be successful must first believe or come to believe that they are good and valuable just as they are, unchanged, before realizing any success in any reparative therapy.
- ”Gay” and ”homosexual” are not nouns or adjectives to describe a person.
I’m writing this because I’ve read two articles on your blog lately from individuals who experience homosexual attractions and are living a sincere Christian life like I am and I have found that I don’t agree with them on some points. I can’t argue, as you said, against their experience and I don’t want to.
But this is my experience. Should I just shut up about it because it doesn’t agree with someone else’s experience?
I want to answer some of the points brought up by the man who wrote the email in the post I referenced above.
1. “Deemphasize the reliance on psychological models of same-sex attraction.” I agree with the reader that “too many…conflate the theological and psychological meanings of the term ‘disorder'” and I agree that it causes many problems. I don’t know that I agree to de-emphazie the psychological modesl though. Those models have saved my life. I’m guessing that we really aren’t talking about the same thing since we seem to share different experiences. I know of many “outrageous therapeutic procedures”. I don’t recommend those. Some of them treat the homosexual attractions as the problem when they are really only a symptom. Other “therapies” seem to be shame based and shame never results in lasting change. The most important work for anyone with homosexual attractions, if they aren’t there already, is to come to believe that they are good and valuable just as they are, unchanged. And we can’t do that if we say, “God didn’t make you that way, you must change.” I say, “you are good and valuable unchanged and I love you and accept you just as you are. I believe that you will find the path to ultimate fulfillment and happiness if you seek change in they way I have. Would you like to try? I accept you either way.” I have experienced true freedom with reparative therapies and it would be a crime for me to not tell others and offer it to them.
2. “Allow for the use of the terms “gay” and “homosexual” used as a noun.” No, I won’t do that. From my perspective of the common culture, “gay” and “homosexual” means someone who, BY NATURE, experiences homosexual attractions. Those words connote a “gay” or “homosexual” identity. I believe that homosexual attractions are a manifestation of concupiscence and therefore, not part of any identity. If I call anyone, those who practice and promote homosexual behavior or those who experience homosexuality and practice chastity, a gay or a homosexual than I am confirming them in a FALSE identity and that is a violence against their person.
3. “Canonize a gay saint.” I hear you. I would love if if that happened with the emphasis that he or she is a saint just like any other saint. This difference is difficult to demonstrate because so many people extol saints of different races and social class, but none of us put race or social background on the same tier as alcoholism or serial un-chastity. The saint canonized and know for his homosexual attractions will still be known for leading a life of heroic virtue. The life of heroic virtue is hard and meritorious for anyone no matter the crosses they endure.
4. “Be able to offer a tangible alternative to the life offered by homosexual activists.” I’d like to hear more about your reader’s experience with this. This has not been my experience. I have found a life that offers male intimacy, male companionship, and brotherhood that does not involve the genitals. I have the possibility of a stable family with a wife. So I was offered that alternative to the gay lifestyle and I have taken it.
5. “Never use the Theology of the Body as an apologetical tool for same-sex attractions unless you are also prepared to answer some of the grim, unsavory implications that flow from it.” I would like to hear more of your reader’s take on this. I have found TOB to be very helpful to me and it offered me hope many years ago that has proved very fruitful. Maybe I’m illogical, but I did not find TOB to only offer me “a beautiful vision of sexuality that [I am] too depraved to participate meaningfully in.” I participate in it now by chastity and I hope to participate in it more through marriage in the future. Maybe the difference is that I believe that homosexual attracts can (can, not must) be changed. I’m guessing that your reader doesn’t and that is why we have different “logical conclusions.” Heterosexual desire is not necessary for full inclusion into the spiritual life and neither is marriage. It is possible though; it is what I have found God is leading me to.
6. Actively promote Courage as a social outlet.” I agree with the reader on this.
Mark, thank you for giving space on your blog for those posts and if you chose, this that I’m writing now. I’ve felt like I need to speak about my experience for many years but I’m afraid to do it. This is me getting my feet wet and may lead to more. Please do not call me gay, a gay reader, or a gay Catholic. A Catholic with homosexual attractions works just fine. A Catholic man is even better.
I’m grateful for the people who have written. Part of what strikes me is the sheer multiplicity and variety of experiences. I think it ‘s good to see.