Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Auntie Seraphic & the Crush Who Came Out

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

[I had a painful, dehabilitating crush on a man named John for over a year, and this is what he told me last night:]

"I'm gay. I just wanted you to know."

And I [had known] deep down that he probably was, but I just didn't WANT to believe it! It was too sad to think that such a nice person with a good heart could like other men [in that way]. I'm not sure how to deal with it in the future, though. I told him that we could still be friends, but I also made it clear that I believe what the Catholic Church teaches in terms of homosexuality. That was the best way I could phrase it at the time in my emotional state.

Now, I know you seem to have a different view on men with SSA than other traditional, faithful Catholics I know. You seem more accepting of them, and seem to think it's OK for them to be as they are as long as they don't act on it. But what exactly ARE your beliefs on SSA? And how do I deal with people afflicted with SSA while still remaining faithful to the Church's teaching? He's the first person I've known well to have it, so this is very new to me. I've talked it over with my mom, and her answer is to just pray and stay friends, which I plan on doing. I plan on storming heaven with prayers for him. Not prayers that he changes, but prayers that he remains chaste. And I think I might tell him to just not tell me anything about his.....inclinations. I don't want to know if he's been out on a date with a man or any such event.

And I think it's really horrible how society treats men with SSA. Men are not accepting of other men who have feminine qualities. If a man doesn't want to play sports or want to chow down on a steak, he's ridiculed by other men. I wonder if that's why men with SSA actually DO get attracted to other men who are like them. Maybe they finally meet someone who is accepting of them as they are, and then think they're in love because it feels so good to be accepted by another man. I dunno, I'm just rambling here. I just wish that men who have SSA did NOT have it, because I firmly believe that they would make many women very happy as husbands. They seem to be very caring and attentive to others' needs, they don't insult other people, they are warm and loving, etc. Sigh, it makes me sad. Such a waste of good men.


Dear Disappointed,

Before I say anything, here is the pastoral statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on homosexuality: Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers. All traditional, faithful Catholics in the USA should read it.

I remember the first time a good friend told me he had same sex attractions (he called it being gay). I went home in a state of shock and slept for hours. I wonder sometimes if men with SSA understand what it is like for women who adore them to receive these confidences. Probably they are so worried about rejection and have been thinking about their SSA for so long that they can't get beyond "She'll reject me/she'll accept me." However, in your case, John's revelation does help give you a long-desired emotional freedom, and that is good.

Life is so difficult, isn't it? But then it is so beautiful, too. It is both at once--just as the truth about John is both happy and sad at the same time. The happy bit is that now it will be easier for you to become free from your inordinate attachment to him. The sad bit is that John has SSA, which must not be easy for him at all.

However, it is John, not you, who has SSA, and it is only John who can take care of his safety, spiritual and physical. Of course you should stay friends with John and pray for him, but I don't think storming heaven on his behalf is your job. You can storm heaven with pleas that YOU keep on the straight and narrow path, but you shouldn't storm heaven about someone else's potential sins: this plays right into co-dependency, which is what happens when a person gets overly involved in another person's problems. Make sure you spend time with other friends and in absorbing activities.

It is not a sin to merely experience SSA. Some people have same sex attractions as an adolescent stage, but then others (1% or 2% of men, I believe; Kinsey's claims have been debunked) have it as their primary inclination either from birth, or because of things that happen to them as children, or both. They are not to blame. But yes, as we know, deliberately performing or accepting homosexual acts is sinful. (This includes 'straight' girls french-kissing each other to show off.)

According to the old catechism, "the sin of Sodom" is one of the four sins crying out to heaven for justice. (This includes an-l s-x between 'straight people,' by the way. No-one ever bothers to mention this.) And I do not believe Catholics can, in good conscience, support "gay culture," with its emphasis on sterile sex, party drugs, rebellion for rebellion's sake, deliberately motherless (or fatherless) parenthood and demands for a new social order in which the ancient facts of marriage and reproduction are demoted to "lifestyle choices."

Fortunately, not all men with SSA sign up with "gay culture." Gay culture chews up and spits out men with SSA, exploiting the young and rejecting the old. Recreational drugs are quite a feature, too. So it is not just the American cult of masculinity that is cruel to gentle men. Meanwhile, many men with SSA say that SSA are a small part of their life; their identity is based on something else, like belief in Christ.

There are many, many, many good men with SSA, including some good priests. The great priest-poet Gerard Manley Hopkins probably experienced them but never, in his holy, long-suffering life as a priest, acted on them. I know at least one living priest with SSA, and he too lives a life of holy chastity. Meanwhile, I suspect I know other good men with some degree of SSA who also live chaste and happy lives.

You haven't mentioned if John is a devout Catholic or not. If he is, his faith will keep him safe if he understands that he is a child of God before anything else. Don't assume that he will have lurid stories you don't want to hear; it could be that John is your friend because you live a chaste, faithful Christian life. There is a great fellowship for Catholics with SSA called "Courage." Click and see if there is a chapter in your college or town, so that if John brings up his SSA again, you can tell him about it. No-one who has SSA should have to join gay culture to find friends and community.

Meanwhile authentic Catholic friendship means loving people with SSA as your friends, as concrete, particular individuals, but not to bow before the glamour of gay culture or put up with "gay" jokes and conversation. (Indeed, young women should never put up with any kind of loose talk.) Sometimes "gay" men adopt feminine language, referring to men (or themselves) as "she" or "my sister" or claiming to be feminine. I find this ridiculous, harmful and disrespectful to women. Men with SSA are men, and they are by nature always more masculine and therefore less feminine than women are. However, once again, many men with SSA do not do these things. They live wholesome, holy lives and have wholesome, respectable friends. They look masculine, and behave in ways that you and I think are entirely masculine. "Masculine," by the way, includes a rather wide spectrum.

I too am sorry that so many good men are made or become ineligible for marriage by SSA. It is a mystery, and St. Paul seems to say it is because of "sin"-- which generally these days is taken to mean that homosexuality, like a host of other sad things (like my weak eyesight), is one of the effects of the Fall. Meanwhile, a few--perhaps only a very few--adult "gay" men do discover that, over time and with strict observance of chastity, their SSA disappear. And a few fall in love with women and marry.

I am wary of pointing this out because thousands of men with SSA have married women, for all kinds of reasons, most of them perfectly understandable, and women have suffered for it. Some were fooled into thinking their husbands never had SSA or had been "cured" or would remain faithful. Some were (and are) dumped flat when the men achieve what marriage helped them to achieve.

Having SSA does not necessarily mean a man is never attracted to women, too, or that he is incapable of begetting children. However, a woman should be wary of marrying a man who has had SSA, unless they both know he is capable of remaining sexually faithful to her for the rest of his (or her) life. So-called liberal elements of society reserve their scorn for men who leave their aging wives and helpless children for other women; they stand and applaud when men leave their aging wives and helpless children in pursuit of other men.

I hope this is helpful. In short, love is the answer--real love that sees a man for who he is in his entirety and desires his good, neither endowing him with the dark glamour of gay culture nor assuming that he is its slave.

Grace and peace,

Comments will be strictly monitored, but anonymous comments of merit will be permitted.

Update: As I half-expected, there was a comment from a non-Catholic in a long-term homosexual relationship who objected very much to the idea that homosexuality is a trial. She does not like the expression SSA. Whereas her views, with which we are all acquainted from the mass media, might not be helpful within the context of faithful Catholic women who love Catholic men (and other men of good will) who experience same-sex attractions, I want to acknowledge that she wrote in.


Jessica said...

This is off the topic of SSA, but I appreciated your perspective that "storming heaven" on other peoples' behalf can be a two-edged sword. We've all heard stories about St. So-and-so who fasted on behalf of sinner so-and-so until a great glorious conversion was had, but sometimes praying for others is used as a way of creating "spiritual" intimacy without the willing participation of the other person. It's probably safer to just pray for the Body of Christ and trust that God will spread His mercy where it's needed most.

I don't have much to add to the SSA conversation, except to add that I've had friends tell me the same thing, and it was an unsettling experience. My only word of caution to Disappointed is that many people, especially those who experience SSA in their late teens/early twenties, can be sort of changeable in their attractions. Of my five or six friends with SSA, every single one has either been attracted to the opposite gender, or at least given strong indications of being attracted to the opposite gender. (I'm 24.) Basically, what I'm saying is you should act with the same amount of modesty and reserve among your male friends with SSA as you would among other guys. And while you probably won't treat your female friends with SSA just like a man (because she's not), a higher level of reserve is appropriate in that situation as well.

Anonymous said...

Seraphic, while we're on the subject of men who are made ineligible to the women who "adore" them, what is a girl to do when she has just found out that the man she has had a crippling crush on for a very long time is joining the seminary? :(

Seraphic said...

Honey, if he's going into seminary, he's just not that into you. See who else swims into your life, and prepare to feel vaguely amused when Mr. Seminarian drops out in Year 2.

Anonymous said...

To the Anonymous above:
Last summer the man I loved entered a religious order. I cried, it was hard. I offered everything to God; him, all the pain, my love, every word or action that had meant anything special, all dreams and hopes, everything; I was empty. I continued crying.
The day I said goodbye the responsorial psalm at Mass was:

"To you, O Lord, I will offer a sacrifice of praise."

This young man was my sacrifice of praise to God. I gave to God my love for this man, my hope of a future, my desire to keep him in the world and thanked God for the future He was calling the young man to, the love the young man had for Him and the Order, and the young man's burning desire to serve the Church as a priest. This sacrifice of praise enabled my heart to rejoice in God's plan, not immediately but in time.

Time, sacrifice, praise. And many, many tears. My journey.

~*Anonymous for today.

Seraphic said...

Oh dear! Ex-fiance?

berenike said...

"You're not a homosexual. You're a man." (quote from an interview with some chap)

Annie said...

Seraphic, your response here was fantastic. I have only one question: what is one to do when gay jokes are uttered, (which unfortunately happens with great frequency in my young Catholic circles), and everyone in attendance at the particular outing finds them somewhere between uncomfortable but tolerable to hilarious? As someone who unfortunately has many people dear to her who have SSA, while only knowing one person brave enough to overcome the gay lifestyle despite it, I worry about the environment we create, and the people we push away, when we don't make it clear that such jokes are /not/ okay. Any thoughts?

fifi said...

I had the privilege of attending a Courage conference because of my job (in the field of ministry). I would highly, highly recommend it, not just for the young man with SSA, but also for his friend, since they also have a support group for friends and family. I was so impressed with the spirit of holiness, joy, and love for the Church at that conference. The group is well-named: heroic virtue is very much in evidence. Though groups may vary by place, the main group and the materials they publish seems very good to me.

To be honest, I found myself fighting tears through most of the talks. To hear the testimony of the Courage members, as well as the anecdotes of the speakers and therapists who were presenting was to understand that I was sitting among the deeply wounded. Not that everyone isn't broken in some way, but my own wounds seem small in comparison. People with SSA need the Church, and the loving community we can give them. They need true friendships, and unconditional love shown to them as persons and children of God, first and foremost. They need the healing power of the sacraments, and often a good counselor can help them as well. "The lifestyle" will destroy them, but there are many faithful Catholics with SSA who reject it (or want to) and their experience of a loving Church community can give them an alternative.

For this reason, I wouldn't recommend that Disappointed send the message "eewww.. gross SSA, don't tell me more and let's pretend we never had this conversation!" Seraphic has covered this and the boundaries needed much better than I. I would just encourage Disappointed to love her friend, to listen to him, and if she can, to help him stay connected to the Church.

Fr. Harvey's books, and one I just read called Sexual Authenticity by Melinda Selmys are some good resources for Catholics, with or without SSA.

We don't think of it this way much, but frankly, all of us folks who get involved in Epic Unrequited Crushes, even Disappointed, have a lot in common with people with SSA. We both need to learn to live in reality, control our fantasy life, pray, take advantage of Mass and confession, and accept God's Will, even though it's very hard. The difference is, "straight" people like me have the hope of someday finding a requited love that we can act on.

Catholics with SSA, who cannot overcome their attractions (some can't) will never have that. It's basically the equivalent of being a Serious Single, and we all know that can get lonely and hard, even if you choose it and feel called to it... imagine if you have no other choice? Yet, despite the struggles, they also give evidence of finding peace and joy. For this reason, I honor those faithful Catholics with SSA who live chastity more than I can say. I'm sure there are some who read this blog, because of the support it gives.

Maybe you can't fully appreciate this until you meet one, but they are in the trenches, the battle-scarred veterans of chastity. They're hard to find, but when you do, they humble you immensely. I thought I knew a lot about suffering and love. I'm thinking again.

That level of heroic virtue, healing and peace is possible for Disappointed's crush object to find, and I pray that he does.

Seraphic said...

Okay, this is complicated because young male humour contains a lot of romance-themed joshing that shocks young women but is actually part of ordinary male socializing. They usually do not mean anything bad by it, and it's not about hurting people. I remember teenage guys I knew joshing like that, and one of them probably had SSA. And being able to joke around freely with his fellow men was, I'm guesing, a great comfort in his life.

When Young Man 1 bats his eyes at Young Man 2, and says in a funny voice "Ah can't quit yuh," he and Young Man 2 are sharing stupid yet necessary male banter that women can't understand and should keep out of.

Meanwhile, if I had a dollar for every time I've shrieked to a happy engaged gal pal, "Leave him and marry me instead!" I'd be rich. It's my way of telling my friends that they are fabulous, beautiful women whom I admire. It would feel sappy to say it in that way, so I prefer the "Leave him and marry me instead!" approach. Maybe that is what the boys quoting "Brokeback Mountain" mean, too.

Young men have a very hard time figuring out how they feel and how they ought to feel and how to express affection for other men without having their affection misunderstood or rejected. So sometimes they behave around each other in ways utterly bizarre to women, including fighting and role-playing.

However, if by gay jokes, you don't mean Tom grabbing Mike, yelling, "Ah can't quit yuh. Gimme a big kiss," and Mike yelling "Get off me, you pouf," but Steve just sitting there telling dirty jokes about men or women with SSA, then you might very well want to do something other than roll your eyes over the immature behaviour of young men.

You can say, "I don't like dirty jokes." You can also say, "Hey, I hope you know the Catechism says that men and women with SSA need to be treated with compassion and love." This would be a particularly good thing to say, especially if it turns out that Steve himself has it.

I'm treading carefully on this one because I am neither a man nor tempted by SSA, but I vaguely suspect that the average guy with SSA would not thank female you for standing up for him against the rest of the guys in a group, unless you were saving him from direct personal insults or physical harm. Men want to be accepted by men. Men with SSA want to be liked by other men. I don't think they want to be babied by ersatz moms. I don't know who invented the gay culture term "fag hag," but I suspect it was a "gay" guy. In short, always remember that men with SSA are men first of all and not women. And men are usually more important to them than women are, which kind of goes without saying.

Meanwhile, figuring out the difference between men joking around in their bizarre bonding rituals and actual hatred for people with SSA is a lot easier when it comes to men's jokes about women with SSA. I can't think of any reason why a man should be allowed to tell dirty jokes about any woman, including women with SSA. Don't put up with them, and tell the jokester why.

In my house, my husband's friends know that there are jokes and topics of conversation I do not allow. Indeed, I might be getting a reputation for acid glances, but we still seeem to be popular.

Seraphic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seraphic said...

Incidentally, the "gay" jokes I mention in my post are not hateful jokes about "gay" men but jokes TOLD BY "gay" men. Some are outrageously misogynist. Don't put up with those, either.

Seraphic said...

Fifi, thank you very much for your comment here. It was very informative and helpful.

theobromophile said...

Oh, dear. I'm the wrong person to comment on the Christian aspect of SSA, but, having many dear friends who are gay, will start there.

There's some evidence that men are gay because of a biological issue in the womb: when a woman bears sons, it changes the chemical make-up of her body in a way that causes future sons to be more likely to be gay. There's also evidence that gay men tend to be smarter, on the average, than their straight counterparts - with an average IQ of 115, not about 100.

There's also some very strong, very sad evidence that most lesbians are that way because of abuse. I think that stat I heard is that six of seven women with SSA were abused as children. Since they can't trust men, it's easier for them to trust women.

So either way, it's not their fault. They didn't ask for this.

I have friends who struggle with chastity - gay and straight. They are still wonderful, loving people whom I adore. My life wouldn't be the same without my gay friends - nor with them but if they were different (i.e. straight). And, to the dear letter-writer: you know this, deep down. You know when men have SSA, because it's not just about whom they want to sleep with; it permeates their being.

Also, most people struggle with chastity. Singles struggle with desire; Marrieds struggle with desire for people not their spouses; Single-but-dating-seriously people wonder if they can remain with that person for their lives. People who don't struggle with desire wonder if they are asexual or messed up in the head.

Now, no one is asking for my advice, but here it is anyway: don't harp on the religious issue with your friend. Lovingly discuss the "why". The high rates of STDS - gay men are 44 times as likely as straight men to have AIDS. The culture that encourages promiscuity. The drugs. The absence of love and stability.

Seraphic said...

I do not entirely agree with Theobromphile's advice. Not all men with SSA find their entire beings saturated with their SSA.

I will generalize about men until the cows come home, but not about men with SSA. Frankly, my "gaydar" broke the second time a man with SSA hit on me. And having gone to school with celibate men with SSA and sexually active men with SSA, and meeting men I thought had SSA who didn't, and meeting men I thought couldn't possibly have SSA who did, I just never assume now.

Meanwhile, I know of one "gay" guy who assumed my husband must be gay, too, and anyone less "gay" than Mr Grabby I have yet to meet.

theobromophile said...

Maybe that was a bad way to describe it. :) What I was aiming at is that a lot of men with SSA share traits that go well beyond whom they want to sleep with; being able to pick out drapes and appreciating the opera have little to do with that, but are nevertheless characteristics of a male with SSA. (Of course, not everyone fits the stereotype, as there are straight, feminine men and masculine gay men, but the trend is there.)

What I was aiming at, I guess, was the empathy for women that a lot of men with SSA have(at least the ones I'm friends with, which might be a self-selecting group!), and the biology. Brain scans of men with SSA are different from straight men in some interesting ways.

So what I was saying, very badly, is that SSA often goes beyond just who someone wants to sleep with. To be technical, the r-squared value is not 1 (and I'm sorry for so implying), but is also greater than zero.

Incidentally, this is also why I think the idea of bisexuality is hogwash.

Seraphic said...

Hmm... well, like Camille Paglia in the 1990s, I don't think bisexuality is hogwash, any more than the idea that orientation is hogwash.

We could argue the scientific--and pseudoscientific--theories all day long. I think it is simply harmful in all kinds of ways to create new iron-clad categories called "gay man" and "lesbian."

Paglia thought (and perhaps still thinks) sexuality is a continuum from 100% attracted only to members of the same sex to 100% attracted only to members of the opposite sex, with most people somewhere in the middle.

For some people (and of these most are men), same-sex attractions are simply not a choice. They seem completely normal and natural, and it is the thought of sex with the opposite sex that seems utterly wrongity wrong wrong wrong.

Other people (perhaps more often women), however, are attracted to the opposite sex, but then decide to "give up" on them and pursue sexual relationships with the same sex. Others start off having affairs with the same sex, and then end up marrying someone of the opposite sex. At least one young woman I could have sworn would be a life-long lesbian has fallen in love with a man and married him. And then there are women, like poet Adrienne Rich, who get married, have children, and then in middle life fall in love with another woman and act on that.

Life is certainly very varied and mysterious, and all this is much, much, much more public than ever it was before.

Less public are the thousands of men and women who do not act on their attractions to the opposite sex and live quiet lives of celibacy, sacrifice, friendship and faith.