So last weekend I got to visit Our Neighbor to the North, the magical land where when you say, “Toller Cranston,” people actually say, “Oh, the figure skater?” I learned many things there. Milk in bags is a REAL THING, people, it’s not just something made up for Gordon Korman fanfiction! Here are some notes, including bonus #CanCon in case there’s a subsidy for that.
# I was there to do a longer version of my usual shtik about paths of love for gay people in the Church. (BOOK ME, I RESONATE WITH THE YOUTH.) I had a chance to speak privately with a lot of the audience, which was fantastic, and two conversations in particular stood out.
One person wanted to tell me about hearing a different same-sex attracted Christian speaker (not one I’ve met or heard), and trying to discuss that presentation later with a gay friend who thought the testimony had been, basically, weaponized. Celibacy presented as the solution to the problem of gay people. And I’ve had at least one person tell me that his pastor has tried to use my story that way as well: “Why can’t you just be like Eve Tushnet, she’s celibate and super happy about it!” (lol not… not always, my friend.) The other person said, “I’m not gay, but a lot of what you said seems really relevant to my life and I think it might help me work out some things about my own future.”
And I think these two conversations are related. On one level I’d be happy if my project was only relevant to gay or same-sex attracted people, since that’s a community to which I belong and to whom I feel an especial obligation. But I do also think “how much are you asking or inviting straight people to change?” is one decent metric for how useful your story is as a weapon.
What I try to talk about most is neglected forms of love. These forms are open to everyone, though they are especially desperately needed by gay people who accept the historical Christian sexual ethic. Many of them are specifically forms of same-sex love, and therefore places where gay people can illuminate what the majority of the church has forgotten and allowed to decay. Our longings for same-sex intimacy, care, and devotion can be lamps guiding the whole church back to Her neglected treasures. This is much less likely to happen if straight Christians view us as problems to be solved, or view our longings as dangerous forms of deviance.
If you’ll indulge me–perhaps gay people in the Church have preserved a forgotten language of love, a kind of Christian palare. We mostly use it nowadays to say the wrong things. But once we spoke the words of Scripture. We can teach you to speak those words again.
# One of the themes I hit on a lot was the diversity of gay Christian experiences, and one of these diversities concerns our doubts. People have really different experiences of doubt. I am an extremely impulsive and unreflective person, and I think that’s part of why I basically do not doubt and never have. I sin, like all the time, but I don’t doubt. Even in the most despairing days of my drinking I did not ever doubt that God existed, that He loved me and cherished me. I just, I don’t know, found it really hard to care or to believe that I could love Him back. I doubted His strength, you could say, though not His mercy.
People in my position can be helpful at times. Sometimes it helps to hear bluntly, “No matter what has happened or how weird things have gotten, I have never stopped trusting God’s goodness.” But a lot of the time the people who can speak to you most are the people who doubt only slightly less than you do, whose relationship with God is only slightly less angry or fraught or uncertain.That suggests two things: a) Sometimes you need to seek out the people who do doubt only a little less than you do (in part because if you stick to talking to the people who doubt a lot less than you do, you can start to really resent them/us). And b) If you are currently doubting and chaotic, your honesty about that can be a form of complicated but real witness, and a gift you can give to others.
# Lately I’ve been on a kick of telling people not to be ashamed to be mammals. Mammals gonna mammal, y’all. I know I often use this idea kind of obnoxiously to defend e.g. men who talk to you when you want to read your book (I stopped reading the Bible in public because men kept trying to propose to me, so I am as unimpressed by this mating tactic as anybody) but I think it can also be somewhat comforting when our unfulfilled desires seem overwhelming.
People really yearn for sexual release, for physical intimacy e.g. cuddling, for biological children. Not everybody, but these are extremely normal things for mammals to want. My guess is that when these desires are unfulfilled, the absence is easier to bear when we can see and be grateful for the goods our vocations do offer us, but I’m not sure. Sarah at A Queer Calling writes well here about “Grieving What My Vocation Is Not.”
I think my own most-intense and most-unfulfilled longing is for mystical union with God in prayer, which is slightly less mammalian. Man is the distracted animal, yo.
# You know who I found myself talking about constantly, and not just because she is in fact Canadian? Melinda Selmys. She’s a great example of somebody whose approach to intellectual questions within the faith is super different from my own on multiple levels. I tend to be very, “Have you considered going beyond critical thinking?”, very “Roma locuta, causa finita est.” I emphasize that you shouldn’t expect that you will be able to understand Church teaching, even in the areas most directly relevant and difficult for you, because there is no guarantee that you can grasp any portion of the mind of God. What you can expect yourself to understand, maybe, is the reason for your own church membership: a reason for the hope that is in you, or at least a description of what you love and what binds you to follow Jesus under the guidance of His Bride. I believe all that and it’s important, but I often do it in a way that gets arrogant or judgmental of others’ questioning.
I do think there’s a humble and fearless way to understand your primary intellectual task as acceptance and obedience, in fact surrender of your intellect to the guidance of Mother Church. But there’s also a humble and fearless way to seek out the hardest questions and apply your intellect and experience to them. Melinda does that really well, which is why I loved her sequel to Sexual Authenticity even though I disagreed with at least half of it. I admire her approach a lot even when I disagree with her conclusions.
Let’s end on that semi-irenic note, eh?