Don’t cover my face with your heart–a quick addendum on “My Peace I Give You”

Don’t cover my face with your heart–a quick addendum on “My Peace I Give You” June 18, 2012

My one specific criticism of Dawn Eden’s new book, My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints (featured on the Patheos Book Club! and here’s my actual, positive review of it), is in her recommendation of Courage as part of the resource guide at the end of the book.

Courage is the official US Catholic ministry for people with same-sex attraction. I know a bunch of people who have been a part of it on and off over the years, and I’ve done some social things with the DC Courage chapter which were very fun. However, there’s a strong quasi-psychoanalytic strain within Courage which can make it inhospitable even for Catholics deeply committed to chastity. If your local group works for you that is awesome, but I am especially wary of recommending it in a book on healing from sexual abuse, because of the psychoanalytic narrative that homosexuality is caused by abuse.

This narrative can foster mistrust between adult children and their parents; it can cause parents to blame themselves for their children’s orientation; it can lead to just-plain-false statements like assertions that all lesbians were sexually abused as children. (For more: READ THIS POST.)

It can also, I think, tangle together elements of a person’s life and experiences which could be more fruitfully considered separately. Someone can be an abuse survivor, and gay, and not think that the former caused the latter. The abuse will affect how the person’s sexuality–and spirituality–develop, and what he or she needs in order to find peace and healing in Christ. That’s obviously true for heterosexuals as well: Our childhood experiences and family dynamics shape our later relationships. But the way those experiences shape us can differ greatly from one person to the next. And being told, over and over, by people in positions of authority, a narrative of your life which rings really false to you, can be damaging and can lead you away from resources which would be more fruitful for you. It can be silencing.

Therefore I’d strongly suggest seeking out a spiritual director (the main focus of Eden’s recommendations) who understands that people’s psyches and vocations are highly individual, and who doesn’t try to force your story or your spirituality into a Procrustean bed.

There are multiple homosexualities, or colors of same-sex attraction. They can form a kaleidoscopic array within one person, shifting at different times in her life, and the different shades require different spiritual approaches. For example, I tend to have an iconic, somewhat mystical, and service-oriented attraction to women, which makes sublimation of same-sex desire into charity and prayer come fairly naturally to me. (“Natural” =/= “easy,” here; I really just mean that I can generally intuit how to sublimate my desires.) I also don’t fit any of the ex-gay-style “developmental models” of lesbianism. I believe people who say that healing the wounds caused by bad relationships with parents or peers, or a lack of love and support in their gender identity, shifted their orientation and gave them previously-unexperienced heterosexual attractions. That’s one way the kaleidoscope can shake. But a) you can have strong relationships with your parents and peers, and lots of security in your gender (both of these things were true of me), and still turn out pretty gay; and b) as I’ve said before, if you have problematic or painful family relationships you should work on healing because those are problems, not because they made you gay. Spiritual growth and healing won’t necessarily provoke heterosexuality. But that’s okay, since the point of Christian life is to serve God as the kind of saint He’s calling you to be, not the kind you wanted to be or the kind your parents wanted you to be.

Anyway! That was a perhaps unnecessarily long post. I just wanted to flag the Courage thing because I so often see well-meaning straight Catholics recommending it without noting that its approach–and, especially, the approach of any one particular local chapter–may not be for everyone. Literally everyone I know who was involved with Courage at one point is less involved with them now, precisely because they tend to be way too ex-gay-ish and one-size-fits-all. They may be the best resource for you, or the best one available where you are. Or there may be better options which support your vocation more.

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