In the Eye Of, Part Two

In the Eye Of, Part Two December 9, 2019

Part One

Content warning: descriptions of sexual maturation, queerphobic slurs

Honestly, this part was hard to write. To articulate this, you have to be really raw with the pain most queer people grow up with, something that affects a lot of us almost continually (1); for me personally, it’s a pain that has been almost physically oppressive lately. But, this is kinda what I do, so here goes.

I said that imagination is an intellectual exercise, and it is. Imaginative sympathy is what we’re going for here: in other words, imagining experiences vividly enough to react with sympathy, with fellow-feeling for the realities of someone else’s life. So, dear heterosexual reader, try to imagine some of the following scenarios.

You’re a teenage boy who grew up Catholic. You’ve learned, in a vague and abstract way, that homosexuality is a thing and that it’s wrong; you go to a pretty traditional parish, and it comes up in homilies every month or two. Some of your friends have started noticing girls (and talking about them, too, in ways that seem a little weird, though you’d rather die than challenge them on it), but you haven’t so far and you’re kind of worried about being a late bloomer. You’ve also noticed reporting on hate crimes in the news—a gay couple getting beaten, a shooting at a gay bar—and your family and friends grumble about the attention these things get, saying that existing laws already make that sort of violence illegal so why do the queers need some specially protected category? It’s so narcissistic.

One day in class, you’re staring vaguely at your best friend, and you realize you’re getting an erection. And you realize it’s not a coincidence; it’s “about” him. And suddenly every other thing that people have been saying about homosexuality for as long as you can remember is something they are saying about you. That violence from the news, and your family scoffing at it, could happen to you. Your friends think that just being like you is an insult, and the well-meaning adults who tell them not to use the word faggot unintentionally reinforce that belief. The teachers and confessors who criticize coming out seem to be saying that being truthful about what you feel is unacceptable if what you feel isn’t heterosexual; that being known, in your case, makes you harder to love, that the love people show you needs to be honeycombed with reservations and qualifications. You suddenly feel filthy every time you think of your best friend because you have a crush on him, and you pull away because you hate feeling filthy. You want to be good. You beg God to take these feelings away; he doesn’t. You start to wonder if he’s punishing you for something. After two years, you finally bring it up, shaking, in confession; the priest tells you not to reduce yourself to your sexuality, but you can’t just cordon it off—it’s affecting every relationship you have or could have, including your relationship with God.

You’re an evangelical kid, the son of a pastor. You’ve never been competitive or outdoorsy, and you hate roughousing; you like spending time with your mom and sister: all three of you enjoy singing. It’s especially fun hitting high notes. Something feels vaguely off, especially about your clothes, but you’re a dutiful child and you try not to think too much about it.

Puberty hits, and everything starts feeling awful. Your voice breaks, and you can’t sing those beautiful high notes any more. You hate the way your body is changing. You put on a little muscle, but it feels alien and unnatural; your sexual urges seem like a horrible rampaging animal, and you miss the calm you didn’t realize you had. Above all, you’re grossed out by the swelling lump of tissue between your legs. You wish you could be—

You wish you were a girl. That’s it. You don’t hate having a body, but you hate having this body; you crave the ability to bear children. You often lie awake late into the night now, crying over these organs that feel so dead and wrong, occupying you where you feel instinctively a womb is supposed to be.

You read a little online, trying to make sense of what you’re feeling, find other people who feel the same way. You do find some helpful stuff. Transgender is a word you hadn’t really understood before, but it seems like an okay fit for what you’re feeling. You also find a horrible, gigantic cache of news stories. Murders of trans women, sometimes by strangers and other times by romantic partners or even family members, piling up from dozens into hundreds of cases. The idea of maturing into a masculine body makes you feel physically sick, but you’re terrified of what your parents would say if you ever revealed this to them. You could become another statistic.

We live with traumas like these every single day. They have nothing to do with sexual activity or the lack of it, and everything to do with the fact that we are other, we do not experience the standard-issue narrative about sexuality or gender or both, and we are often judged and despised for it. Many Christians categorically reject not just the goodness but the existence of our experiences. “There are no homosexuals,” said Fr Harvey, the founder of Courage, “only heterosexuals with a homosexual problem”—which, whatever he meant by it, says to us, “You’re not only drawn to something sinful, which is bad enough on its own; you’re also too screwed up and stupid to know anything about your own life—that’s my job.”

I’m not saying every queer-identifying person is miserable. But a lot of us are, and it’s both ignorant and cruel to assume it’s all our fault. Christian, you have a duty to try and understand what suffering people feel and why they feel it. Being a believer does not make you omniscient or even wise. Wisdom takes effort. Sit down and try and think of all the times in your daily life when your attractions, your relationships (friendly as well as romantic), your comfort in your very own body, are things you simply take for granted.

Sound hard? It is. Now, try to think how it would feel to never be able to take it for granted.

(1) The Velvet Rage by Alan Downs is a very good exploration of this subject if you want to read more.

Images via Pixabay

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  • Illithid

    Nailed it. I wish every straight, cisgender person would read this.

  • Were you actually brought up a Catholic, or is this all just “imagination”?

  • Mark

    I am so confused lately. I’m 30 now. And since I was a teenager I was certain about being gay. Oh, I’m also a traditional Catholic, so the question of the morality of homosexual sex-acts was always there, but I firmly believed I’d be content with a celibate relationship if I could just find one; for me it was about love, not lust, and I was a hopeless romantic.

    But then I had a…tumultuous but transformative relationship with another man. Ended badly, but not really I guess, because it changed me psychologically. Suddenly a lot of the desperation and need for another person to “complete“ me, to be with a man for the sake of supplementing something in my own self image…just went away. It’s a long complicated story, but I realized in a profound and transforming way that sort of infatuation, that sort of “limerence” was an illusion or a psychological projection of my own Oedipal issues.

    Problem is…it was that sort of experience, that sort of limerence, which made me identify as gay in the first place, which identifying as gay coherent to me. Now that that emotional framework has sort of collapsed for me and no longer makes psychological sense…I don’t know what I’m left with.

    I’m attracted to men on the physical/lust level still, but that’s almost entirely confined to fantasy and pornography; its totally detached from what could ever be healthy relationships for me. I’m not saying that just because of the idea of celibacy; I actually have a current boyfriend, and we occasionally are sexual, but for me it has no real emotional connection to the relationship like it would have if I hadn’t “lost my faith” in limerence.

    I feel bad, because I love my current boyfriend, but I’m not “in love”…but that’s because “being in love” isn’t even a thing I think is *real* anymore. Like, I used to, I used to be a hopeless romantic, but that made me miserable and I eventually realized it was a sort of drug. And even if I wanted to be, it’s sort of something I can’t even emotionally get back to now, because the sorts of internal psychological deceptions or unknowings that are a condition for it…have been seen and can’t be unseen (and really I prefer that; but I miss the highs even if I don’t miss the lows).

    I guess I’m still “gay” because I’m still physically aroused by men; but lust is never what made my sexual identity feel real or the right fit for me, it was romance/limerence. And now that’s shown itself incoherent too, and I can’t imagine any way to integrate my raw physical attractions into any relationship or more meaningful context. Even anonymous hookups largely don’t appeal (and I don’t mean for moral reasons). I say that mostly because, without the dynamic of the possibility of mutual infatuation, I seem mostly aroused by straight men now, and the gay men I am physically attracted to are entirely outside my personality, people I wouldn’t get along with even as friends, let alone lovers.

    And…more and more I’m thinking something like, “Well, if sexuality is destined to be compartmentalized from any real adult partnership I have…why does it make anymore sense to be with a man than with a woman.” Like, I have a boyfriend currently…but my sexuality has very little to do with it, emotionally, beyond the fact that I went with a male out of inertia based on my historical identity (but the “chemistry“ was just never there, and I don’t really sense it ever could be for me again in any actual functional relationship).

    And more and more I want kids, and though I could see adopting, I really want some of them at least to be biological children, and I want them to grow up with a mother in the house. But then, that’s where I feel equally dissatisfied, because I feel like I wouldn’t really know how to connect with her on an emotional level either. But, hey, if I’m going to just be choosing a special friend a woman makes as much sense as a man.

    Someone suggested maybe I’m really asexual. I wish. But I don’t think asexuals jerk off to porn as much as I do (formerly a lot of gay porn; now actually mostly straight porn, oddly, but I’m “watching the guy,” mostly).

    Help. Everything made so much sense to me in, say, my early twenties. And now my desires have suddenly become so fragmented and incoherent…

  • Irksome1

    If I recall correctly, Mr. Blanchard was brought up in the Reform tradition. His description of Catholic sermons’ content on this issue doesn’t really ring true to me, but everything else does. In my case, merely hearing the occasional sermon about homosexuality would have been a kindness. What I got instead was daily sermons from parents and friends about the evils contained in just experiencing sexual attractions to one’s own gender. It lead me to distance myself from far too many people.

  • Tim Walstrum

    Yet you deny the harm that the beliefs your church espouses about us having to be celibate isn’t harmful.

  • Yeah, you know what else can be harmful? Being bullied and harrassed for years on end by someone who hates your beliefs and thinks that being rude, aggressive, and cruel to you and all of your friends is going to change your mind.

    I think I’ve made it clear that we’re done talking to each other, Tim. I cannot fathom why you read this stuff that you hate so relentlessly — unless you enjoy making yourself angry. You never have anything helpful to contribute, or even anything varied, you just hammer the same “Your beliefs are toxic and bad” bell over and over. There is no way in hell you seriously believe that could change anybody’s mind. If I could, I would prevent you from reading my work: it obviously isn’t benefiting or pleasing you in any way, I do not want to be your outrage porn, and I am worn out by the mere thought of the years I’ve wasted trying to believe you were operating in good faith. You’re not welcome to comment on my material, ever, and you are not to get in contact with me at any time, on any pretext. If you try to approach me in person I will look into filing a restraining order. This is an abusive, toxic pattern of behavior *for you,* and you need to leave Side B people alone for five minutes and get some help.

  • Jenna St.Hilaire


  • Irksome1

    At some point you’ve got to agree to disagree, yes? And, if you won’t do that, continuing with a futile line of argumentation becomes abusive, doesn’t it?

  • Irksome1

    Well, yes. If your racist is obstinate, what is the point of further discussion with her?