That happiness you never really wanted for me... I can want it for myself.
I think this is improper logic. I understand the basic view expressed here. I have suffered from this in my own life. As a man attracted to other men (I don’t particularly care what term you attach to this basic definition) I have dealt with people telling me that being single, not dating, not pursuing romantic interests, and never marrying is no big deal. I’ve even, rather callously, been told that being single is wonderful because you can keep all the money you earn for yourself and buy a big, expensive home and fill it with expensive things. As if money and stuff is an adequate substitute for human companionship. Usually, I was told these things by married persons. Obviously in their own lives, they chose to pursue someone they were attracted to, to date, marry, and have children. I used to respond, “What if I took all that away from you? How happy do you think you’d be?” I certainly don’t want to deny anyone, anything, nor do I have any issue with the sexual ethics of the Church. My issue always lay with the lack of consideration and empathy shown to me and people like me. I never felt like I was being treated as a real person. The feelings, the desires, and the needs that everyone else had, didn’t seem to apply to me and I didn’t understand how people could so comfortably seek to deprive me of the very things they had pursued and prized in their own lives. Of course, this ultimately has nothing to do with other people or their supposed will for my life.
Much of what has come out of my mouth over the years in relationship to this topic has come from a place of intense hurt, anger, and a sense of extreme injustice. The Church has always been hard on issues of sexuality, as it has a very rigorous moral standard. Theology of the Body and its acceptance in the Church has in part been because there are many hetero Catholics who have felt a great deal of shame simply because they have a desire for sex or because they enjoy it. So for many, it’s been a way of embracing their own sexuality in a positive way and shaking off the shackles of shame. At the same time, they have elevated human sexuality and marriage to a degree that perhaps is out of proportion. We have to remember that priests are celibate and that our religious take vows of chastity. These things are not just sacrifices or hardships to be endured. Their lives are not miserable, or they don’t have to be. Spiritual marriage is real and by this, I mean marriage to God. Celibacy is not possible without a deeply profound relationship with Jesus, though this is not easy.
I recently went on a retreat partially organized by Theology of the Body. While many of the ideas presented are beautiful and provide straight Catholics a more dignified understanding of their sexuality, it does so almost to the detriment of those who remain single and unmarried. I’m sure this is not the intention, but it does feel like a silent critique of the celibate/single lifestyle, which is even more baffling when considering the history and tradition of celibacy in the life of the Church. Obviously, there isn’t necessarily anything in Theology of the Body for the same-sex attracted, at least when looking for a way to embrace the reality of your sexuality and to incorporate it into life as a Catholic. Much of this retreat was focused on understanding the dignity and purpose of sexuality, with the conclusion being that not only can the same-sex attracted not pursue relationships, but that the same-sex attracted shouldn’t exist because the attraction in of itself is an assault on the natural order. It was said by one of the speakers that a man is not really a man unless he dates. He needs to date for self-actualization. The overall theme was that we are all a bunch of halves, walking around, looking for our other half. There are a lot of things wrong with this, but that is too much to get into here. It’s really an extreme interpretation of the Biblical narrative of Adam and Eve and the idea that “it is not good for man to be alone.” It turns us all into these desperate, grasping individuals who are looking for wholeness from another, rather than developing a secure, loving relationship with God and then bringing a complete, whole, and secure person into a relationship with another so that we can give and not just take.
By the end of this retreat, it was understood that the same-sex attracted should just choose to date someone of the opposite sex if they wanted to begin to be “healed” and to be complete. I’d heard this many times before, but I was shocked that there wasn’t any place for celibacy. In fact, celibacy was seen as a cop-out. Really this group of people represented many same-sex attracted who were attempting to live by the traditional Christian ideal and were struggling to figure out how. There are only so many options: 1.) Accept sexuality and remain single. 2.) Accept sexuality and date. 3.) Don’t accept sexuality and choose to date someone of the opposite sex. The real conundrum for those who adopt the first option is how to live and how to interact with your sexuality (if at all), how to identify, and how to love yourself. The issue for those who embrace the second option is that it is difficult to remain in the Church, so you either leave or seek to change the Church. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be understood that uprooting and disposing of the Church’s teachings on sexuality will deal a mortal blow to the Church by shattering its foundation and destroying any authority it has. At which point, the Church is superfluous and this conversation need not be had.
I get that we all just want to find a way to live, to be happy and whole and to not feel degraded and abused all the time. Many describe my attraction to men as a cross. I’ve often responded with, “What makes it a cross is the unkindness of others.” Celibacy can be a tough pill to swallow, especially when it feels imposed upon you. It can also be hard to make sense of why God has allowed you to be gay. You wonder, “What is the purpose? Don’t You want me to be happy, Jesus?” I’m not sure there are any happy answers, not for the religious gay man at least. Not everything or everyone comes to a happy end and we don’t always get our way. For the gay man who chooses to date and marry women, this is a lack of acceptance of an obvious reality and perhaps, even a form of self-hatred. For the gay Catholic seeking compromise, I’m not sure there is one and this represents another inability to accept reality. The Church’s teaching on sexuality cannot be undone. If it is, it is the end.