Romoeroticism

This year, just like last year, Gay Pride weekend coincided with the feast of Corpus Christi.

Washington, D.C.’s Pride parade was fairly restrained: It featured a cornucopia of Episcopalians, and all the marchers went out of their way to sweetly drape beads over the little elementary-school girls standing in front of me. There were Affirming Baptists; as the parade passed by me, a knot of gay men to my right joked — in that gay way that is never really joking all the way down — that maybe they could be Baptists again now. There were strollers, lots of strollers . . . at least five floats’ lengths away from the guys in the padded leather thongs.

The next day, an exaltation of the body very different from the one on the D.C. leather bars’ floats occurred in the same neighborhood. It was the feast of Corpus Christi, a product of medieval women’s intense focus on Christ in the Eucharist. We walked a small, almost shy, almost shameful circuit of the block immediately surrounding the church. We didn’t even attempt to process down to D.C.’s Freedom Plaza, where the Pride weekend booths had settled. We’d retreated from the obvious thing happening in our neighborhood that weekend.

A child asked (I think — my Spanish is high school at best) why we were kneeling on the boiling hot pavement. “Por penitencia!” his mother explained. A young woman knelt on the cement, her whole body arched forward like an Olympian waiting for the gun to fire so she can race, the deep blue ruffles on her blouse pulled taut over her intent and muscled back.

The monsignor walked with Christ’s Body under an umbrella stamped with the papal insignia. No one explained what we were doing. Our witness was real, but enigmatic. Nobody ever said that this was the Body exalted.

I half-jokingly (it’s never joking all the way down) suggested that my coreligionists throw rosary beads next year. Maybe then we’ll finally get around to talking about what the Catholic Church has to offer to gay men and women.

We have what virtually no one else has. Other forms of Christianity have, for the most part, either ditched the prohibition on gay sex or insisted that homosexuality can be fixed, as if our profound longings were a leaky carburetor. In a landscape of gay heresy, blank silence, and secularized therapy, the Catholic Church offers a more compelling alternative: the possibility of shockingly chaste same-sex love.

Frederick Roden argues, in Same Sex Desire in Victorian Religious Culture, that the English Protestants who associated “Romanism” and homosexuality were not simple xenophobes. They were reacting to real features of Catholicism. Although “Romophobia” in the Victorian era probably did partake in the usual resistance to anything that is different or foreign, there were nonetheless particular features that made the Catholic Church more attractive to the people who were, at the time, being psychologized into “inverts” or homosexuals.

Same-sex attracted seekers in the Victorian era responded strongly to Catholicism’s physicality. The incense smoke and flaking paint, the hint of cannibalism that recalled the Church to Her disrespectable origins, the kneeling, and the statues called to gay men and women. If you’re persecuted for your reaction to gender and physicality, you may become intensely aware of bodily realities; and Catholicism, alone in the mainstream Western religious landscape, kept insisting that bodies were both important and bizarre. We alone kept saying that the flat white wafer in the priest’s hands might shiver at any moment into raw and bleeding human flesh. We alone made Communion a horror story.

And the Catholic Church gave men and women an image of Woman whom they could truly love. Catholic lesbians can yearn for Mother Church; we can yearn for the Virgin. Catholicism offered same-sex attracted women the images of womanhood that helped them render their desires sublime. Beatrice makes sense not only to Dante but to me.

 

I occasionally give talks about being gay and Catholic, and one of the most frequent questions I get is a sort of frustrated bafflement: What is the difference between sublimation and repression? What does it mean when you say you can sublimate your desires — isn’t that just a fancy way of saying, “Pray away the gay”?

I think Roden’s book is one place to begin. Roden gives us portraits of men and women navigating an exceptionally complex cultural moment — as same-sex love was shifting from exalted friendship to despised pathology — who often display a fearlessness and passion no one could deny.

There’s a lot more Catholic history to discover. Alan Bray’s study The Friend looks at the ethics and culture of same-sex friendship in England from 1000 AD to the 19th century; he finds beautiful commemorations of lifelong loyalty, ceremonies in which friends became kin, and much more. It is entirely possible to renew these practices of our faith (Bray wryly notes that he is “returning [the term 'traditional religion'] to its owners”) without any compromise on the Church’s teaching about the proper use of our bodies and our sexuality.

Doubtless no matter how many models of chaste same-sex love the Church offers, many contemporary gay people will still reject its hard teachings. But it couldn’t hurt to try. So often I’m asked questions that boil down to the angry or anguished plea, “Is there anything in my love and desire that the Catholic Church can respect?” I’d be shocked if as much as five percent of gay people who grew up Catholic even know that there’s precedent for their lives, and faithfully Catholic beauty available to them. I’d be shocked if anyone had ever even suggested a vision of a world where God, Church, family, and community could celebrate their love while still requiring that this love express itself as chaste friendship or mystical approach to God rather than as gay sex.

In a world of Gay Pride, the Catholic Church offers a unique opportunity to celebrate gay humility. Maybe we should start telling people about it.

By

Eve Tushnet was born in 1978 and grew up in Washington, D.C. She was received into the Catholic Church at Yale University in 1998. Her hobbies include sin, confession, and ecstasy. Her writing can be found on her blog http://eve-tushnet.blogspot.com and http://evesjournalismandstuff.blogspot.com. She writes a lot about being gay and Catholic. Her patron saint is Elizabeth of Hungary. She has worked full-time for the National Catholic Register and the Manhattan Institute (one year each), and part-time for the Institute on Marriage and Public Policy, the Bible Literacy Project, and the National Organization for Marriage. She has written for publications including Commonweal, the New York Post, the Washington Blade, and the Weekly Standard. Mostly she writes the art reviews for publications people don't read for the art reviews.

  • Hildy Johnson

    Excellent piece. I wish I had had this to give to a good friend in high school.

  • Alma

    Eve, I love your writing, and this was very powerful. God bless you in everything you do!

    In a world of Gay Pride, the Catholic Church offers a unique opportunity to celebrate gay humility. Maybe we should start telling people about it.

    Yes!

  • August Driscoll

    I agree that the Catholic Faith is the place where we can pour all our desires and have those desires sanctified by Grace. But part of that sanctification is in recognizing the flaws that exist within our own disordered desires, and in not allowing ourselves to be defined by those disorders, which it seems you invite people to do in this article. I think what you say is very deep and reflective, but I’m not sure its all correct. The idea that homo-eroticism can find its fulfillment in the Catholic Faith is maybe not as true as that this concept might be more of a stepping stone into a deeper faith, where one is finally able to abandon any kind of disordered-eroticism.

  • Andy K.

    I agree that the Catholic Faith is the place where we can pour all our desires and have those desires sanctified by Grace. But part of that sanctification is in recognizing the flaws that exist within our own disordered desires, and in not allowing ourselves to be defined by those disorders, which it seems you invite people to do in this article. I think what you say is very deep and reflective, but I’m not sure its all correct. The idea that homo-eroticism can find its fulfillment in the Catholic Faith is maybe not as true as that this concept might be more of a stepping stone into a deeper faith, where one is finally able to abandon any kind of disordered-eroticism.

    Agreed 100% Perhaps the author could elaborate more on what she means by “chaste same-sex love”? This might clear up some of the confusion.

  • Steve

    A beautifully written piece, Eve. I would love to read more, to actually listen to those among the faithful who share that struggle. We might realize its not as foreign as it first seems. I certainly get the impression that the Church has a LOT of work to do here.

    I ran across some work from a gay Catholic that approached Scripture with something of a “homosexual hermeneutic”, if you will. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but again, there certainly seems to be an enormous need for conversation here. I think Jesus demands better from us than what we’ve offered to so many hurting sisters and brothers.

    Any other writing you’ve done on this topic, or other works you’d recommend?

    Yours in Christ,
    Steve

  • laura

    It seems to me there is a very great divide between ardent friendship and same-sex attraction. So whatever a woman feels in her desire for Beatrice that is friendship is fine, and can’t be classified as “gay.” Whatever she feels that is sexual is not really a part of who that woman should be, but a distortion. Not to be sighed over, but to be cut out, or fled from. No?

  • Marie

    Is “chaste same-sex” love exclusive? Or is it open?

    If it is exclusive, would that prevent the partners from engaging in other “chaste same-sex” partners?

    If it is open, how do you distinguish it from the simple “best-friend”-type friendship?

  • MRA

    I honor the author’s faithfulness through hard suffering and her intentions to be orthodox here, but this approach is ultimately incoherent. If an act is morally wrong – in its kind not just in its particular circumstances – how can the desire for that act be good, beautiful, and ennobling? Unless, that is, God is simply a cosmic tyrant. If the thing is bad, the desire for it is bad, though it may well be bad in the sense of unfortunate rather than immoral or culpable. And if the desire is a bad thing, how can it be right to revel in it like this?

    Eros is a fine and beautiful thing where it belongs, but to eroticize everything is ugly and distorting. If same-sex friendship, for instance, is not meant to be an erotic love, then isn’t it sullied by being eroticized – just as love of a child or a sibling would be?

    How exactly is the philosophy of this piece different than saying that the Church offers wonderful spiritual resources to pedophiles, and that although they must of course keep their love chaste, they should not seek to deny or eradicate it, but rather to express and sublimate it through, say, a special (still erotic) devotion to the infant Jesus? I know, that’s a more extreme case, but is it different in kind?

  • Ann

    I am having a hard time understanding this concept of chaste same-sex love.

    I thought that the Church believed that homosexuality, or same sex attraction, was not real or biological, but rather something to be overcome, and a deviation from normal.

    If that is the case, then how would chaste same-sex love fit in? Of course, we can have friendships of the same sex, but they are not based on an attraction and I am having a hard time seeing the distinction.

  • Richard

    what the church offers homosexuals is forgiveness and pennance,
    pretty much what it offers all sinners. Same sex friendship is
    not sexual and I’d think that if an individual began to have such feelings, they’d best read their bible and/or speak to their confessor. Let’s not forget Jesus’ admonition against lust.

  • Donato Infante III

    Eros is a fine and beautiful thing where it belongs, but to eroticize everything is ugly and distorting. If same-sex friendship, for instance, is not meant to be an erotic love, then isn’t it sullied by being eroticized – just as love of a child or a sibling would be?

    If the love we are talking about was philia and not eros, then arguably two people with SSA could decide to live together, share their resources, etc. right? Could we say that erotic love for someone we cannot express it with (anyone other than a spouse) just becomes a temptation?

  • Eve Tushnet

    Hello all. Thanks so much for the comments. Let me see if I can reply to some of them….

    It seems to me there is a very great divide between ardent friendship and same-sex attraction. So whatever a woman feels in her desire for Beatrice that is friendship is fine, and can’t be classified as “gay.” Whatever she feels that is sexual is not really a part of who that woman should be, but a distortion. Not to be sighed over, but to be cut out, or fled from. No?

    I don’t really think it’s that simple, though…. There can be a big, obvious divide between friendship and eros, or there can be a complex overlap. I think most of us have experienced such a complex interplay of friendship and eros at least once. Eros isn’t like a single shard of glass, which can be cleanly removed from the flesh with a bit of diligent and painful work with the tweezers.

    Is “chaste same-sex” love exclusive? Or is it open?

    If it is exclusive, would that prevent the partners from engaging in other “chaste same-sex” partners?

    If it is open, how do you distinguish it from the simple “best-friend”-type friendship?

    If it helps to think of the love I’m talking about as a kind of hyper-best-friendship, then maybe go with that? The Alan Bray book, for example, describes friends publicly making vows, which their communities honored, to care for each other for a lifetime. These vows helped to knit their families together in a larger web of kinship, and were sealed in the Eucharist. So… I have no objection to calling that “best-friendship” if it helps you see my point, but the public, honored, vowed aspect is pretty important.

    As for exclusivity, I’d imagine different practices would be appropriate for different cases. The vows Bray describes did not preclude marriage, for example, but did (I’m pretty sure) preclude having more than one vowed friend.

    For less-formalized chaste expressions of same-sex desire, I’d say 1) nobody needs to have only one friend!, but 2) most of us do have one person who is dearly beloved to us in a unique way. That person becomes part of our family, almost part of our soul. There should be some way of acknowledging that.

    Eros is a fine and beautiful thing where it belongs, but to eroticize everything is ugly and distorting. If same-sex friendship, for instance, is not meant to be an erotic love, then isn’t it sullied by being eroticized – just as love of a child or a sibling would be?

    Thought experiment: Let’s say you find out for certain sure that there was an element of erotic attraction in Cardinal Newman’s deep love for Ambrose St. John. Would that actually sully their friendship?

    In general, I think eros works in Catholicism in complex ways, not easily reducible to rules and regulations. Coincidentally, this is also how eros works in the human heart! It’s possible to say, for example, that there’s often an erotic element in education, without saying you should have sex with your students.

    To quote one of my very favorite lines from Maggie Gallagher, “Of course Freud was right: Civilization is sublimated eros. But then so is sex.”

  • Eve Tushnet

    Hello! For more more more, the two books I mention in this article are good places to start. The Roden book is short! It’s available on GoogleBooks. You do have to put up with some queer-theory silliness, and he can be hilariously reluctant to judge some of the more bizarre behavior of his subjects, but he quotes such amazing writing that it’s totally worth it.

    The Bray book is longer, more careful, and more academic, but very beautiful.

    Both books overlap in time: Cardinal Newman is, I think, the latest figure discussed by Bray and the earliest discussed by Roden.

    David Morrison’s autobiography, BEYOND GAY, is pretty good. I had some problems with it, but it’s worth a read (and I believe he’s doing, or has just done, a new edition).

    If you go to my website (the link is in my byline, above), you’ll find a bunch of articles on the sidebar under the heading, “Sicut cervus: Resources on God and homosexuality.” All of those are things I recommend, and they’re shorter than reading a whole book!

    You might also check out the posts I’ve tagged “romoeroticism” and “Gay Catholic Whatnot.”

    Hope that helps….

  • Mark

    I recall Frs. Levis and Trigilio discussing on their EWTN program “Web of Faith” that if a priest and a woman in the parish develop a sexual attraction to each other, they should see each other as infrequently as possible. If that which is natural should sometimes be avoided, maybe it’s time for us to stop sugarcoating intrinsically disordered desires.

  • Drusilla

    Of course there’s courtly love and the incredibly intense, incredibly passionate yet chaste friendships that are depicted in Mallory, Cretien de Troyes et al. Often, as in the relationship between David and Jonathan, those involved in such friendships were faithfully married while the same-sex relationship remained so remarkable.

    Eve – thanks so much – you keep reminding all of us that our history is richer than we imagine.

  • Charles Miller

    Eve – what an incredible article. I also appreciate your responses above as well. It struck me that the whole thought process could indeed be applied to all paradigms of friendship, not just same-sex. Who has not experienced the intense friendship which quite suddenly takes on an element of eros? For me this was an occasion of intense prayer as I so valued the friendship that I did not want to “wreck” it by letting the relationship degrade to eros. (I discovered that “Come Holy Spirit” does not ever wear out!) This is indeed fertile thought-ground. I look forward to more from you on this.

  • Deacon Ed

    Aelred of Rievaulx on Spiritual Friendship might help in the understanding of a right-ordered relationship between two person of the same gender.

    One of the hazards about these eroticized relationships is where the basis for them lies in lust rather than love. “Lust” is a word we rarely hear used these days, not unlike the word “shame.” There perhaps are many explanations of why they have left the lexicon. But it is essential in our sex-permeated society to come to some healthy notions regarding the differences between lust and love. And this lust of which I speak can characterize heterosexual attractions, just as easily as the homosexual ones. Let’s just be very careful about not giving ecclesial sanction to lust of any kind.

  • MRA

    Thought experiment: Let’s say you find out for certain sure that there was an element of erotic attraction in Cardinal Newman’s deep love for Ambrose St. John. Would that actually sully their friendship?

    Well. . . yes, somewhat? Likewise, if I found out that St. Thomas wrote the Adoro te devote, inspired by his secret cannibalism fetish, or that St. Alphonsus was a sublimated sadist who got off on contemplating the scourging. Such desires just are ugly.

    A person afflicted with gravely disordered desires may have a beautiful soul in other ways – perhaps a beautiful heroism – but the desire itself isn’t beautiful. To deliberately treasure up and cultivate a perverse desire is itself a perverse act, even if you succeed in refraining from acting it out externally. It’s like nursing a poison plant in your heart – not to mention playing with fire.

    But if that’s not what you’re describing, if what you mean is that the beautiful thing to be treasured here is the urge for friendship, why would you seek out professedly “same-sex attraction” friendships, rather than the friendship of those who don’t struggle to keep sex out of friendship?

    So I have to infer that you do not, in fact, accept that homosexual love is intrinsically disordered or perverse. Correct? But then I don’t see how God is anything but a bully whose cruel whims the gay pride people are right to reject.

  • steve

    MRA (or anyone else),

    So DOES the Church have any good news for someone with SSA? Are they just burdened with a more frustrating concupiscence than the rest of us? Is it the equivalent of a birth defect, illness or disease? Or is there something redeemable in the very love and attraction that they experience?

    This is exactly what the Church has to come to grips with, in the sense that there seems to be some sort of lived experience here that doesn’t “fit” our understanding of love, chastity, the body, etc. And I can’t blame a homosexual who feels as though God is just playing a cruel trick. Furthermore, failure to address this authentically and lovingly alienates not only homosexuals, but all those who are close to someone who struggles with SSA.

  • TJV3

    It is a principle of psychology that two individuals, who are sexually attracted to each other, and develop a close, affective friendship, have a statistically high probability that the relationship will eventually become sexually expressed. For those who do not have the possibility of ending such friendships at the altar, they are setting themselves up for either the constant frustration and torture that will result from attemtping to practice a live of virtue while being beset by the temptation to take the relationship “to the next level” or they will give in to temptation and find that it is nearly impossible to regain their chastity without foregoing the friendship permenently.

    Religious novices have been warned for ages to avoid particualr friendships, lest any of them who are homosexually inclined, find themselves in moral peril.

    I think that Eve, in a valiant attemtp to baptise a desire for close affected frienships among those with same-sex attraction, has really stumbled upon the well trod path of particular friendships.

    It is true that Catholicism is Incarnational and sees creation, including human love and sexuality, as fundamentally good. It is also true that sublimation of sexual desire can be a healthy way to live a chaste single life. But having a close “super best friend” with whom one is sexually attracted is not a path or virtue but a peril wating to happen. Just ask Alberto Cutie if you have any questions.

  • MRA

    Steve, couldn’t you say the same of any suffering? Sure, God brings good out of evil, and after death we’ll see that our cancer or whatever was for the good and rejoice in it (or perhaps in life, if we’re very holy). Sure, such evils may allow for holiness and happiness in the deepest sense of the word, but happiness and pleasure are not the same. To take pleasure in sickness, disorder, and disease, to savor them, that’s a refined and sinister perversion, not holiness. Such aestheticism is a diseased parody of asceticism.

    The question is whether you truly believe homosexuality is intrinsically disordered. Imagine if you were a parent who for whatever reason couldn’t help experiencing erotic thoughts and feelings about your child. However virtuously you reacted, those thoughts and feelings can’t be good, and you could never be happy about feeling them or identifying yourself with them. Isn’t that because you believe such love is disordered?

  • William Williams

    There is an interesting book, Decadence and Catholicism by Ellis Hanson, not neccesarily written however from an “orthodox” perspective, which argues that Catholicism offered many same-sex-attracted literary authors of the later nineteenth century (e.g. Verlaine, John Gray, Baron Corvo, “Michael Field”) an outlet–the only viable social outlet in Victorian society–for their culturally deviant sexuality. The Church’s chaste (homo) eroticism, manifested in its same-sex religious life and its some-time homoerotic mystical tradition, along with other paradoxes, such as the simultaneous carnality and asceticism of the Church’s art and ritual, represent some of the features which constitute that outlet, so the author contends. It is in some ways, I would suppose, a controversal argument and book, but worthwhile certainly.

  • Robert Brennan

    I was simultaneously confused,perplexed, and disturbed by this article. I believe this “gay-lite” approach to Catholic morality can only lead to a tower of babel consisting of commitment ceremonies and life-partner nomenclature that further muddies the waters of our true natures and what God has in store for us.

    To partake in one of these chaste same sex “unions” is to fly in the face of “avoiding the near occasion of sin” we proclaim in the confessional. And though I admire her honesty and her attempt to mine some grace and good out of a tough situation…Abstaining from an act that is sinful is not a sacrifice but a duty. When a heterosexual priest forgoes marriage he is giving up something (marriage and the intimate congress between husband and wife) that the church has always honored and blessed. Those with a homosexual orientation cannot make that same sacrifice, and trying to cobble together some kind of uber-friendship model that in reality, is based on sexual attraction is, I’m afraid not only doomed to failure, but not really consistent with the Church’s teaching.

  • Sara

    What explains the constant flattening of eros into lust or (ugh) “sexual attraction”? Can we all go re-read Deus Caritas Est? Or at least Maggie Gallagher’s line quoted above by Eve?

    This is why I’m increasingly skeptical about the way we employ a minimalist definition of “gay” as “a person afflicted with same-sex attraction.” While this may be the result of an understandable attempt to articulate Church teaching sensitively (“we’re not saying YOU are disordered, just your desires!”), I’m not convinced it doesn’t actually cause more trouble that it’s worth.

  • Eve Tushnet

    I think possibly some specific cases might be illuminating.

    1) A friend of mine–a striking, very intelligent woman–has deeply reshaped my thinking and affected how I lead my life. I am pretty sure this relationship would have been less intense had I been heterosexual. (Note that I’m NOT saying straight women can’t have intense same-sex friendships! Just that in this particular case, the fact that I found her attractive was part of the “energy” of the relationship.)

    Yet at no point did I ever actually want to sleep with her. That just wasn’t where the eros in our friendship pointed–it pointed toward education, common interests, lovingkindness, etc.

    2) David Morrison, whom I mentioned above, writes about his life with his partner. Their love began as a sexually-active gay relationship, but continued (and, arguably, deepened) when David entered the Catholic Church and they became chaste.

    Is the argument, from the people who are taking issue with my piece, that David and his partner should have ended their friendship when their sexual relationship ended? Should somebody move out? Are you willing to make that judgment call for every couple, regardless of individual circumstance?

    Because if any of those three answers are “no,” then there needs to be some alternative way of expressing their love, which is what I’m trying to talk about.

    …Anyway, I hope that these two real-life examples can give some sense of where I’m coming from on this. I also very strongly second the recommendation of St. Aelred’s SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP.

  • Okie

    …look, eros can be very complex, filled with depths that the poets of every age (well, maybe not ours) mine again and again and again to expand on the human experience. But in another sense, its really simple. It is there to essentially make babies. I know, to put it that way is to say it in its most un-romantic, most un-erotic form, but erotic love needs that perspective sometimes. The erotic attraction is natural because it causes men and women to come together and “be fruitful and multiply.” Since it is natural, it is a very easy and powerful trope to speak about the Divine love and even our love of the divine. Sense it is so powerful, it is indeed a powerful and well used way to speak to the celibate and the religious, and indeed “sublimate” that natural desire and transform it into Love of God. However, when eros is directed not toward pro-creation, or not transformed into love of God, it is simply disordered.

    Now, if what you are saying is that, in analogy to the mystics who sublimate their natural desire for the Divine, those whose erotic desires are disordered towards improper objects (same-sex, someone who is already married, someone other than your spouse, etc.) can attempt a similar transformation, and turn that disordered eros into an ordered love of God, then fine. I’m even open to the possibility that people who share the same disorders may have critical insight to offer each other in this transformation (although I dully note and agree with those who say the price in temptation may be too much for such people to live together, and may be best done with or only through a spiritual advisor). But I do not think we can say that simply because erotic love is complicated and disparate, there is ways we can “bless” its disorders through “vows” to “uber-friends” or the like. Love, like God, is simple. Eros, in a way , in specifically the perfect, simple love of God, fragmented and fractured throughout a creation broken by sin. The Hierarchical ordering of love that occurs through something like marriage is a mediation God gives to us to reorder our loves…but even marriage will pass away in the Kingdom of Heaven, because Love will once again be simple and singular. So I do not think the “its complicated” argument works, and if our desires cannot be order through God’s loving hierarchical mediation back towards the creator, it is a desire that we must work to overcome.

    My thought experiment is this: private property is a good. Avarice is a vicious desire for it. It can never be sublimated into a good: if you cannot own property in moderation and in a legal fashion, there is no way to “half-own” property in a way that will make you not greedy. It is better to lop of your hand than go whole limbed into hell.

  • Okie

    this was a weird sentence:

    “Eros, in a way , in specifically the perfect, simple love of God, fragmented and fractured throughout a creation broken by sin. ”

    It should say:

    “Eros, in a way, is the simple love of God, but fragmented and fractured throughout creation which has been broken by sin.”

  • Katrina

    May I suggest a book which I have found very helpful. It is by the great French philosopher (and Catholic thinker) Jean-Luc Marion. Title: The Erotic Phenomenon. U. of Chicago Press. Your mind will never be the same again!

  • Lucien

    The fruitfulness of eros can be various in kind. I don’t think it’s out of the question to discuss celibacy in terms of eros, or God’s love for his creation as eros, or the Incarnation as an erotic act. And then there are the poets–a suspect group surely, but one full of interesting examples. The chivalric tradition, certainly, comes first and foremost to mind (as was mentioned above). But there is also Dante and Beatrice, and Peguy and Blanche Raphael, whose relationships were extra-marital and (probably) chastely erotic (and quite fruitful from an aesthetic perspective). Michaelangelo’s sonnets (and his art) also come to mind in this regard, as does Claudel’s Le Soulier de Satin. It is also important to think of the role of suffering in relation to eros. In all of the examples just mentioned, including the Incarnation most particularly, eros and suffering enter into a dialectic of sorts. For these reasons it may be right to say that the only truly authentic fruitfulness in eros is non-physical, since there is a paradoxical way in which eros itself is non-phyiscal (a longing, rather than a consummation). I offer this only to attempt to further thicken the context, as we continue to discuss and ponder eros and its possible manifestations.

  • Kg

    So, If a married person who truly loves their spouse is acquainted with a person of significance of the opposite gender and they have a tremendous physical attraction and deep friendship in the same manner they can consummate a real and holy chaste friendship because of the power that the Holy Spirit gives to them in their committment to be obedient to God?

  • August Driscoll

    So, If a married person who truly loves their spouse is acquainted with a person of significance of the opposite gender and they have a tremendous physical attraction and deep friendship in the same manner they can consummate a real and holy chaste friendship because of the power that the Holy Spirit gives to them in their committment to be obedient to God?

    I think Kg’s analogy is to the point. If you plug in any other kind of inappropriate relationship here, it would be considered something to avoid, and yet we have created this allowance for people to define themselves by this one area of disordered-eroticism. I think it is unhealthy to define yourself in this way, and to constantly be trying to see the world through the prism of same-sex attraction. To the degree that your relationships are influenced by same-sex attraction they are unhealthy. You can overcome this. As for those who claim that this view entails some kind of cruel joke that has been played on people. It’s true, a cruel joke has been played on all of humanity. But that joke has not been played by God, but rather by the Devil, on all of us. There is a way out, but it’s not in changing the truth, it’s in conforming ourselves to the will of God. Amazingly he does offer us our suffering as a way towards him. And so, Eve, I think the way you are grappling with this is very Catholic, but don’t stop short. Don’t define yourself by a disorder. You’re better than that.

  • Robertz

    I fully agree with Okie and August. We have to remember that disorders, illnesses, death itself came into existence at the moment of Original Sin. Nature itself was affected by the Great Schism with our Creator. I just now thought, what if the Earth used to be truly the physical center of the universe being held so by His almighty providence and omnipotence; but after that dreadful moment of original sin Earth lost that physical center (along with physical immortality, painless labor at childbirth, etc) as He allowed mankind to go our own way by free will (and hence needing to be saved). In the separation from God, we opened ourselves and nature up to degradation which is still present today due to concupiscence. Concupiscence remains after baptism so that we “may struggle for the victory, but does no harm to those who resist it by the grace of God.” For those who persevere in their struggle to the end, Christ has won that victory for us.

  • RQ

    This is a deeply difficult topic, but a very important one. I think that these are the kinds of questions real, faithful Catholics end up wrestling with the most- the “how much of this is sinful tendency, how much is God-given personality?”, the “is it possible for my weakness to also be my strength?”, the “i know this is a problem as it stands, but do i try to remove it or redeem it?”.

    These questions are not, by any means, the exclusive domain of people who tend to fall in love with the same sex. I’ve spent long nights (heck, it’s 4:30am as I write this) grappling with similar questions in my relationships with men. The problem with these questions is they’re so deeply personal and specific, especially when relating to one particular relationship in your own life. Trying to fit your emotions, desires, and multi-faceted love into catechism categories is not only hard, but feels distinctly wrong. And I think we’ve all faced the chilling question of whether our prayers for guidance are being answered by the Almighty and All-righteous God, or whether we’re feeding “God” the lines from our own subconscious.

    In the end, we don’t need Mother Church to tell us that the heart wants what it wants. But we also don’t need Her to tell us that that doesn’t mean we can have it. In cases like this, I think we need to weigh all three sides- the inherently good in the desires/relationships, the inherently evil, and the simply inappropriate/impossible. When you want to marry someone (or feel the the sexual, romantic, friendly, and Christian loves that sentiment entails) and for whatever reason can’t my personal rule for such situations is “behave as if they’re married to someone else”. I find that’s a good way to err on the side of chastity.

  • Tito Edwards

    I believe Kg & August Driscoll have made a fine analogy.

    I have a good Catholic lady friend that I find physically attractive, yet I know that we would not make a good couple. So I do my best to not put myself in compromising positions to fall into lust with her and go down a path that I know that will ultimately fail because we are just two different personality types that clash.

    Reading this piece brings this to mind. Why would you want to set yourself up in concupiscence with this ‘uber-friendship’?

    Yes, I don’t want to sleep with my good Catholic lady friend, but knowing if anything progresses beyond our friendship I am highly susceptible to making the wrong decisions in our now romantic relationship since my other ‘desires’ will become inflamed and overcome me at the right (wrong) moment.

    This just doesn’t sound like a good piece at all.

    I commend your efforts though in trying to find a balance with your same-sex attraction, but another example would be for an alcoholic to constantly going to a bar and not touching a drink. He knows he has a problem yet continues to go to the bar for whatever reason such as his friends, big football game, etc. It just isn’t smart.

    Anyways, may God guide you in your journey and give you the strength to carry on.

  • MJ Anderson

    I applaud Eve for honesty on a very personal and difficult topic. Many important points have already been covered in the comments section: Deacon Ed’s insight, MRA & August Driscoll’s comments and TJV3 important reminder of the Church’s constant advice to religious vocations.

    Eve wrote:

    “In general, I think eros works in Catholicism in complex ways, not easily reducible to rules and regulations. Coincidentally, this is also how eros works in the human heart! ”

    We need caution here: purpose for eros is a specific intended fruition–it is not so complex to see that attempted fruition outside of God’s design is not something that “works in Catholicism”. As others noted, to flirt around the edges of the erotic attraction, as if any disordered attraction could be redeemed but retain its substance (Steve) is to trod dangerous ground. What is worrisome is that some seem to set SSA in a special category of disorder–a disorder with privileges not granted to other disordered affections (pedophilia and other sexual aberrations)..

    SSA has a powerful lobby, a powerful political platform and since “openness” of society permits it, a powerful position in advertising,art, etc. The prevailing idea that the lobbying effort has achieved is that some accommodation must be found for SSA that permits its victims to feel comfortable.

    Each generation of Catholic faithful wrestles with the question of the proper place of eros, and it is nearly impossible to approach the issue without the overlay of the contemporary culture. Our era views the issue of SSA and how one lives with it as a believing Catholic through the lens of “equality.” In modern society, “equality” is a given. But equality cannot be reduced to “sameness.”

    It is not unequal that homosexuals cannot marry nor should they live together in some publicly vowed state.

    Eve wrote:

    “I have no objection to calling that “best-friendship” if it helps you see my point, but the public, honored, vowed aspect is pretty important”

    First, the “publicly vowed state” that the government acknowledges in marriage is because the marriage is a public good, a service to the whole of society–it provides, nurtures and educates the next generation of citizens. There is no “right” and no matter of “equality” for relationships to be granted a “publicly vowed state” UNLESS they are authentic marriages.

    Another point on special friendships-when friends of the same sex have a very deep and lasting friendship but are not in the least same-sex attracted, they do not need a “public, vowed aspect”. To suggest that somehow those friendships have an inferior degree of philos (or depth) because they do not also have an element of eros is misguided.

    Eve wrote:

    “Let’s say you find out for certain sure that there was an element of erotic attraction in Cardinal Newman’s deep love for Ambrose St. John.”

    Let’s not say it. Since we do not know for “certain sure” that such was the case, to speculate is itself a disservice to understanding the issue at hand. It is this same supposition that homosexual apologists make about the friendship of David and Jonathan in the Old Testament –and it does “sully” the relationship. Heterosexuals who have very dear same-sex friendships would find it “sullying” to have their friendship presumed to have a homoerotic element.

    SSA is not genetic, as the Human Genome Project has made clear. It is an emotional response, a psychological compensation, to a deep hurt. It is a trial and often causes great suffering. (As do many other conditions that humans have suffered with since The Fall) Catholicism does have compassion for those who struggle with SSA. The heart of compassion is found in truth.

    http://tinyurl.com/lcn7xf

  • Mark

    Rather than appeal to obscure books I resort to Scripture. What does Jesus say? The natural and God-intended order is that one man and one woman become physically and spiritually compleat in an ideal union. Paul and other writers appropriatly identify desires and beliefs counter to this teaching as simply wrong.

  • Mark

    “SSA is not genetic, as the Human Genome Project has made clear. It is an emotional response, a psychological compensation, to a deep hurt…” – MJ Anderson

    Thank God for giving you the wisdom and courage to speak the truth in plain English. We are in for a long uphill battle after many decades of psychobabble and the devastation it has caused.

  • Eve Tushnet

    Hello all…. A few quick notes.

    1) There are already actual, existing chaste gay couples. Not very many–not enough!–but still, real people. I’m saying there should be some way of honoring them. I think the counterarguments boil down to a) they shouldn’t be celebrated or b) others shouldn’t be encouraged to go and do likewise. B) is more defensible but still, I think, misguided.

    2) I find analogies in this area tend to assume the conclusion they’re attempting to prove. If living with a vowed friend is like an alcoholic living in a bar, then of course it’s a bad idea! But… a bar can’t care for you, can’t encourage you in temperance, can’t address the loneliness or anxiety or what-have-you which leads you to drink. A person can. I suspect that for many people, living alone would be significantly worse for their chastity than living with someone they love.

    3) While I do think vowed friendship should be renewed for a lot of reasons, that’s only one part of a possible conversation.

    I don’t mean to cut off that conversation, but the friendship thing is really a sub-thesis; my main thing, with this piece, is an attempt to answer the question of whether the Catholic Church has anything to say to gay people other than: “Don’t.” (Or, “You can get that fixed, you know.”) I say yes, She does have much more to say. So that might be something to explore.

    Thanks very much for reading all the way through this quite long thread!

  • August Driscoll

    The Catholic Church doesn’t just say “don’t” to anyone. It says yes a thousand times over to all the right things. But with regards to sin the Church does say no. And with regards to those disordered thoughts that lead us into sin, the church gives us a way to defeat those thoughts so that we are not slaves to them. But you seem to want to define yourself by these disordered thoughts. That I find unhealthy. Working through it all is a convoluted and personal process, but we should not say, “this is who I am,” with regards to disordered thinking.

    Consider what a defeatist attitude it is to define oneself as a pedophile, or a murderer, or a thief. Sure people fall into these behaviors, but so long as they say, “this is who I am,” they’ve put a wall up between themselves and the fullness of Grace.

    With regards to special friendships that were celebrated in the past by Catholics, I wonder if we’re not projecting our own modern over-sexed perceptions onto what were nothing more than close friendships, sans the same-sex attraction. And with regards to these friendships that you say should be celebrated now. Why? What are we celebrating, that two people have formed a bond based on a disordered attraction that they choose not to act on. Think about what you’re saying? Should a parent encourage a child into such a relationship? Kids these days are so confused about sex. We live in a culture where everyone is committing sodomy. It’s called birth control. Look up the definition, it fits. Young people are now defining themselves in all kinds of bizarre ways, and the latest craze is bisexuality. It’s called sin, and we’re all besieged by it. It’s unhelpful to make these half measures, and false identifications of oneself, and it feeds the confusion. But I commend you for opening up this debate and being willing to engage in it. That is helpful. Peace.

  • Tito Edwards

    Eve,

    To your main point, I do agree that the Catholic Church has much to offer for people with SSA. I am thankful that there are many confident, faithful, and intelligent Catholics such as yourself that can relate to the rest of the world your struggles and the many treasures that the Church has for those with SSA.

    Please continue writing on this topic so as to be a voice for those that listen to the many misguided messages that is acculturating Americans that there are much, much better options than to succumb to primordial urges.

    We are more than a sexual act, we are made in His image and that is love.

  • RQ

    SSA is not genetic, as the Human Genome Project has made clear. It is an emotional response, a psychological compensation, to a deep hurt. It is a trial and often causes great suffering. (As do many other conditions that humans have suffered with since The Fall) Catholicism does have compassion for those who struggle with SSA. The heart of compassion is found in truth.

    It may be accurate to say that there is not evidence that same-sex attraction is genetic, but that does not mean it does not have a physical/biological component. Research suggests that hormone levels during fetal development (the same factors that determine genital development, male/female brain differences, etc) are linked to male homosexuality.

    Suggesting that Catholic teaching is dependent on or linked to a particular scientific hypothesis is, in my opinion, a risk not worth taking. The cons include: appearing dishonest or foolish to those who have seen (what they think is) proof of the opposite, and making the Church appear foolish and out-of-touch if a contrary hypothesis wins the scientific debate. The pro’s include: a quick dismissal of some arguments against the Church’s position. However, it’s not necessary to invoke science to support the Church’s teachings, because they are based on Scripture, Tradition, and reason.

    The fact of the matter is, whether same-sex attractions have their origin in genes, hormones, psychological response to trauma, or no-way-of-knowing, none of it matters in questions of morality (as long as it can be agreed that it is not a willed choice). Morality is about the response of an individual to their disordered passion, not its cause. I think the discussion of how to live faithfully as a Catholic with same-sex attractions, and how other Catholics can reach out to them effectively, is too important and too necessary to become sidetracked on issues of “where does SSA come from?”.

  • Okie

    I think August is dead right, the problem lies in allowing ourselves to be identified by a disordered desire. With relative assurance, I can tell you the vast majority of young men struggle (and fall prey) to the desire to masturbate. As a young adult male, it would horrify me to be labeled as a “masturbator,” either as a teenager or now. It would have been wrongheaded to even ask the question “does the Church have something to say to me as a masturbator?” And even though its true that some “aspect” of that desire stems from a good and redeemable desire (every desire does…as Thomas says, even the devil is good insofar as he has being!), it would be ridiculous to act like addresssing me and the needs of my soul would be better served through imagining myself or others imagining me first as a “masturbator,” simply because I had the desire to do so.
    I understand that adding another person to the equation adds the idea of comfort and help, but there is nothing there to solemnize. It is just what friends are supposed to do, and if a friend knows they will be a basis of temptation, they would willingly give up that relationship for the good of the other. I’m sorry, but I think August has this pegged…it is simply a very modern way of understanding self-identity that is at the root of this problem, and it is not healthy, nor is it Catholic.
    Futhermore, when it comes to the issue of vows, vows in this regard make sense only in the realm of contracts. Marriage, thus, is a contract, as are vows made about the use of property, as are monastic vows, as is the vow made in the Priesthood, etc. David and Jonathan’s vow had a contractual basis as well. I don’t understand what is being contract in these “vows” that you speak of, and my guess is that upon further inspection, the “vows” between friends in the olden days had a lot to do with dispersment/use of land, and/or marriage between children/making someone part of the family for legal/land issues…

  • MRA

    Right. Continuting Okie’s last point:

    Yes, a friend can be “another self.” We heterosexuals have friends like that, too. But what does being another self have to do with vows? It’s not the kind of thing that can be vowed. It just is so or it isn’t.

    At least in the traditional Catholic understanding, we vow things that are fulfillable and also objectively verifiable. Religious make a vow of poverty, not poverty of spirit; of chastity, not purity of heart. The inward virtues are the purpose of the making the vows, but they’re not the content of the vows. (An astute Dominican remarked to me once that for that reason alone it should have been obvious right away to everyone how wrong-headed it was for the Legion to have a “vow of charity.”)

    The loving and honoring that spouses vow are also concrete actions. Falling out of love is not breaking your marriage vows; sexual infidelity and abandonment are.

    What exactly is it that your “vowed friends” would vow?

  • Patrick

    What the Church has to say to say to gay people other than “Don’t” is the same thing the Church has to say to anyone who is drawn towards sin and the destruction of his or her soul: Christ–the Crucified One–He must live in you. The principal means the Church gives to bring us closer to this new and ultimately fulfilling, though baffling, relationship is the sacraments. The answer is Christ Himself, nothing more, nothing less.

    As others have said, we are not defined by our desires or sexual attractions–unless we choose to be. His power is greater than any sin or tendency. To look for ‘something else’ from the Church other than first and foremost to realize the authentic need for total one-ness with Christ is misguided, in my opinion.

  • Barbara

    Dear Eve

    The Catholic Church has a ministry for individuals struggling with same sex attraction. The name of the group is Courage. You’ll find them online.
    The psychiatrists voted in 1973 to remove homosexuality from the DSMR because of political pressure. No new scientific evidence was offered to justify the vote. Can you imagine them voting on, say, schizopherenia?
    http://www.narth.com explains reparative therapy. Dr. Joseph Nicolosi sounds like a really lovely person.
    I’ll be praying for you. I urge anyone reading this to support our Catholic brethren who struggle with same sex attraction through education about Courage and reparative therapy, but above all, prayer!!!!!

  • Eve Tushnet

    1) I think I understand why people view calling oneself a gay woman “allowing [oneself] to be identified by a disordered desire.” I don’t view it that way, b/c I generally see “gay” as a complex, fairly mysterious constellation of culture and personal experience, only some of which is directly relevant to gettin’ it on with ladies. But I don’t know that I can explain my view in a comments-box! (It probably won’t help if I say, “Think of ‘gay’ as a genre”!)

    If you do check out the sidebar on my blog, you’ll find some things I’ve written about some aspects of that constellation.

    2)

    With regards to special friendships that were celebrated in the past by Catholics, I wonder if we’re not projecting our own modern over-sexed perceptions onto what were nothing more than close friendships, sans the same-sex attraction.

    (my emphasis)
    The historical evidence suggests sometimes yes, sometimes no, often it’s impossible to tell….

    What exactly is it that your “vowed friends” would vow?

    The standard formulations are fairly vague (just as “poverty” doesn’t give cash-value limits!) and focus on living with and/or supporting one another until death.

    The specific obligations in England often involved financial settlements (like marriage, these vows definitely did involve property, practicality, and politics, but can’t be reduced to them), care for the friend’s kin e.g. children if one friend predeceases the other, and having Masses said for the friends’ souls.

    It doesn’t seem too difficult to translate at least some of this into a contemporary context. Think of the obligations you would take on if you became “kin” to someone: I’d expect to care for their aging parents, for example.

    3) My views on ex-gay therapy are… pronounced. I hate to keep pushing you to my blog, but if you click on “In which I attend an ex-gay conference,” you’ll find a series of posts I did on the subject. While I do know one fantastic ex-gay lady, whose writing on the subject you can read at
    http://disputedmutability.wordpress.com
    , overall I think these programs do much more harm than good.

    Thank you very much for your prayers.

  • Tito Edwards

    Eve,

    Not to sound off-putting, but since I have a proclivity to beautiful women, should I embrace that aspect of my sexuality and begin referring to everything and anything that I do as part of the straight-culture? I should I just come out and refer to myself as a “Straight” instead of a Catholic or American. Or better yet, I am a Heterosexual-American?

    I’ll plead ignorance since I don’t understand the difficulties that you struggle with each day, but looking into Catholic theology and seeing what you see to justify your proclivities just doesn’t sound all that congruent with Catholic teaching.

  • August Driscoll

    I’ve been to your website and can’t make much sense of it. Perhaps that’s just me, but, why don’t you make the case here? It’s an excellent forum. I don’t think you’ve responded to any of the more significant questions I’ve raised, but, to respond to your last thread, you say that defining oneself as gay doesn’t mean defining oneself by a disordered attraction. How could this be?

  • Steve

    Thanks to all of you for this ongoing conversation. And Eve– wow– we should all have your courage. Who among us would be willing to put our deepest personal struggles on display for all to see and debate about? You are definitely in my prayers.

    I’m not sure if I’m struggling for different answers, or just different approaches to pastoral practice?

    I can relate to the self-identification comparisons, and I think many of them are valid. If we’re talking about concupiscence, fallenness and disordered desires, it’s hard to see how it’s helpful to identify myself as an adulterer, a gambler, an alcoholic, etc. And in the area of disabilities, I know there is a strong push to refer to “a person with epilepsy” rather than “an epileptic”, or “a person who is paralyzed” rather than “a parapalegic”. It can make for cumbersome language, but many people do not want to be defined by their condition. The emphasis is then on the PERSON instead.

    Is SSA any different? Perhaps not. If I’m understanding some of these comments correctly, even if great art or literature is inspired by the artist’s passion for a person outside of marriage, or a battle with addiction or disease, that doesn’t legitimize those things or make them good. Such a statement then puts SSA on par with adultery or addiction or illness. That’s not good news for someone with SSA. I keep coming back to Eve’s quote: “So often I’m asked questions that boil down to the angry or anguished plea, ‘Is there anything in my love and desire that the Catholic Church can respect?’” But if the answer is simply, “Well, we all have our own struggles with sin and disordered desires. It’s just part of our fallen nature.” Then I suppose in that sense we’re all on equal footing. Is there some comfort in that? Maybe.

    Finally, I’m trying to square some of this with JP II’s Theology of the Body (my study of which is hardly complete). I think one stumbling block could be that he puts SO much emphasis on experiencing our very humanity and nature in our “bodiliness”, in our masculinity or femininity, that it seems someone with SSA is at a loss. In talking about self-gift and the spousal meaning of the body, for example, he says, “This consistent giving…which is reflected in their reciprocal ‘experience of the body’, bears witness to rootedness in Love.” (TOB 16:1, Waldstein translation, italics original)

    So in what way can this rootedness in love be properly and chastely expressed? Is someone with SSA predestined for a life of consecrated virginity? (can’t go to the seminary, and not the convent either, I would imagine) Is his or her vocation basically decided, with other options ruled out? How precisely does someone with SSA enter into a communio personarum? Is the body just “lying” to him or her?

    In TOB, I don’t know that homosexuality is directly addressed. The closest I could find to an answer that is in keeping with this thread is in 29:4, “…concupiscence brings with it an almost constitutive difficulty in identifying oneself with one’s own body, not only in the sphere of one’s own subjectivity, but even more so in regard to the subjectivity of the other human being, of woman for man and man for woman.”

    Sorry for the long comment, but I am really hoping to better sort this out. Thanks again for the input.

  • Melinda Selmys

    Eve,

    A lovely article. I’m coming the same issue from a different angle — I converted to Catholicism thinking that I was going to end up living the “chaste lesbian” lifestyle, but God broad-sided my plans by giving me a husband. Still, I can understand where you’re coming from. Although I’m married, I’m not “attracted to men” apart from the one that I happen to be married to.
    It strikes me that Michealangelo is a good example of the sort of sublimation that you’re talking about. His homoeroticism may or may not have led him into sin (it certainly led him into temptation, though that may be neither here nor there.) Regardless, it also led him to create some of the most beautiful and sublime presentations of the human body that have been left to the world. This is also similar to something that Fr. Groeschel talks about in his book “Stumbling Blocks, Stepping Stones” which is basically about the idea that our sins and temptations are ultimately an important part of our spirituality are part of the way that we know and approach God.
    The whole question of beauty and homosexuality is one that I think needs more examination. I covered it a little in my own work (Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality and Catholicism), but I’d be really interested to hear more of your thought on the relationship between the two.

    In Christ,

    Melinda

  • Bubbles The Terrible

    The public Catholic discourse consistently communicates that SSA isn’t *really* about sex, but about “father hunger”, “the sports wound” and “whatever it is that happens to chicks.”

    Here’s good ol’ Eve taking such statements at their word and proposing that since it’s not really about pursuing perversions of “the marital embrace” (whispered with your arms crossed over your breast, your eyes closed and – this is very important – with a slight shudder), then maybe we ought to consider the good desires that it’s really about.

    The result is an avalanche of pseudo-moral posturing as it turns out the position that ssa-as-symptomatic-of-other-problems business is just smoke and that it really IS all about friction and mucous membranes. I Call BS!

  • Zoe

    Eve, Thank you for a thoughtful piece which raises questions and issues not discussed enough among faithful Catholics. A few random thoughts…

    I believe the jury is still out on how our sexual identity and attractions develop. I think in time there will be evidence to show it’s a complex process which can include bio-chemical/hormonal aspects going back to the womb. And while there may be no “gay gene,” there may still be genetic components that come into play.

    I think the Church has a long way to go in its understanding of, and outreach to, homosexual people and their experiences and needs.

    The issue for some commenters here seems to be that if something is “intrinsically disordered,” than it should not be acknowledged, honored, or “normalized” in any way.

    The thing is, our desires for relationship and intimacy, at root, are about a thirst for union with God. Where ever there is love, there is God. (And where there is lust, there is selfishness and not God.) We need to discuss – and even think outside the box – about how the homosexual person can meet his or her needs for intimacy and relationship without marriage and sex. Conversations like this are a good place to start. It is not enough to speak of it in abstract or theological terms all the time — it must also be addressed in the context of real, human lives.

  • Marie

    These vows helped to knit their families together in a larger web of kinship, and were sealed in the Eucharist. So… I have no objection to calling that “best-friendship” if it helps you see my point, but the public, honored, vowed aspect is pretty important

    Eve,

    These chaste same-sex relationships – with vows, no less- may be considered a sexless gay marriage? So how does the couple consumate it?

  • Bruno

    Catholicsim gets us in the habit of facing our attractions, and determining if they are good for us, and (gradually) achieving self-mastery (i.e., self-detemination in response to our strongest passions). Why? So that our freedom increases. A person who has no self-control, no ability to look at what is bad for him and say “Get lost”, is not free. In my experience, sublimation is the process that occurs when I admit something is attractive but also that the attraction is not good for me (a second piece of chocolate cake, let’s say!). The desire is there, but I recognize it is not in my best interests. I allow it to evaporate. This is hard to do, depending on the passion and level of attachment. It is a process and is never fully achieved. But the ability to have mastery over our passions, rather than their having mastery over us, makes us free to control our own lives. Repression is an unhealthy denial of a desire. Sublimation occurs when we directly face a desire, allow it to surface, but NOT take action on it. That leaves us psychologically healthy, and also in control of ourselves (= free).

  • DS

    This is what was on your profile describing why you blog : to rediscover Catholic forms of (chaste) same-sex love, to live both openly and faithfully.

    The fact that you are brave to discuss your private life in a public way does not make acceptable the clear fact that you are, in a way, leading homosexuals astray with such a statement.

  • Roz

    The thing is, our desires for relationship and intimacy, at root, are about a thirst for union with God. Where ever there is love, there is God. (And where there is lust, there is selfishness and not God.) We need to discuss – and even think outside the box – about how the homosexual person can meet his or her needs for intimacy and relationship without marriage and sex.

    Bingo, Zoe. I am sympathetic to the yearning of someone with SSA to have the deep bond with someone that a husband and wife would have with each other. First, a practical thought: It seems to me that the concept of a “super-friendship” such as Eve suggests would be much more able to be appropriated by women than men, simply because the nature of women’s friendships is, in general, so much more interpersonal and emotionally-focused than men’s.

    But that’s parenthetical to my main thought. Speaking of the actual application of arrangements such as Eve proposes, I think common sense should guide us here. Heterosexual people who don’t have a vocation to religious life or consecrated virginity but who don’t ever marry are in exactly the same position as people with SSA. They might yearn for relationships of that depth of meaning but aren’t in a position to experience them in the way they desire. In the general course of pastoral wisdom, I’ve never seen exclusive, vowed platonic partnerships recommended or widely applied in this situation which, in itself, is reason for great caution here. Having good friendships where significant and, to a point, intimate sharing takes place is a wonderful thing. But deep, “all the intimacy but none of the physical expression” relationships seem to me to be a combination of wishful thinking and a twisting of the natural order to suit ourselves and escape trials.

    This doesn’t mean that relationships that have an element of erotic attraction can’t be managed in a Godly and responsible way and result in a fruitful friendship. But should I knowingly pursue a deep intimate friendship with someone to whom it’s likely I’ll become sexually attracted but with whom marriage is not an option? I’d say a resounding “no”, and I’m pretty sure my husband would agree.

    So the combination of eros and friendship reminds me of the old paradox that goes, “You say I shouldn’t drink whiskey while I’m praying. Well, can I pray while I’m drinking?” We don’t want to throw baby out with bathwater, but we should carefully consider the issue and keep the end in mind. The incredible aptitude of the human heart to indulge in massive rationalization shouldn’t go unrecognized.

    Oh, while I’m at it:

    Eros, in a way, is the simple love of God, but fragmented and fractured throughout creation which has been broken by sin.

    I disagree with this if Okie is saying that Eros is a result of the Fall. I don’t see any scriptural support for that. I’m pretty sure the first instance of erotic attraction was when Adam first laid eyes on Eve. I wish the author of Genesis had captured his precise words, but perhaps that desire reveals a concupiscent curiosity on my part.

  • Ed L.

    In 1986 Cardinal Ratzinger(now Pope Benedict XVI) issued a “Pastoral Letter for Homosexual
    Person”. Paragraph #12 beautifully sums up the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuals and how they can “enact the will of God in their life” and live a “chaste life”.

    God Bless Pope Benedict for his profound wisdom

    12. What, then, are homosexual persons to do who seek to follow the Lord? Fundamentally, they are called to enact the will of God in their life by joining whatever sufferings and difficulties they experience in virtue of their condition to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross. That Cross, for the believer, is a fruitful sacrifice since from that death come life and redemption. While any call to carry the cross or to understand a Christian’s suffering in this way will predictably be met with bitter ridicule by some, it should be remembered that this is the way to eternal life for all who follow Christ.

    It is, in effect, none other than the teaching of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians when he says that the Spirit produces in the lives of the faithful “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control” (5:22) and further (v. 24), “You cannot belong to Christ unless you crucify all self-indulgent passions and desires.”

    It is easily misunderstood, however, if it is merely seen as a pointless effort at self-denial. The Cross is a denial of self, but in service to the will of God himself who makes life come from death and empowers those who trust in him to practise virtue in place of vice.

    To celebrate the Paschal Mystery, it is necessary to let that Mystery become imprinted in the fabric of daily life. To refuse to sacrifice one’s own will in obedience to the will of the Lord is effectively to prevent salvation. Just as the Cross was central to the expression of God’s redemptive love for us in Jesus, so the conformity of the self-denial of homosexual men and women with the sacrifice of the Lord will constitute for them a source of self-giving which will save them from a way of life which constantly threatens to destroy them.

    Christians who are homosexual are called, as all of us are, to a chaste life. As they dedicate their lives to understanding the nature of God’s personal call to them, they will be able to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance more faithfully and receive the Lord’s grace so freely offered there in order to convert their lives more fully to his Way.

  • R.C.

    Eve:

    Following up with my previous post, I wonder if part of the problem here is what C.S.Lewis calls “transposition?”

    He explains that our spiritual beings have more “feelings” than our physical/animal bodies can express, and so the physical feeling of dread or fear (a “twisty-feeling flutter in one’s stomach”) may be exactly the same physical feelings we have with excitement (same twisty-feeling flutter) or with being in love. For while our spiritual/intellectual selves can distinguish between circumstances of fear and circumstances of being in love, and thereby identify the feeling, our intellects can apprehend more situations than our bodies have unique sensations to represent.

    So one sensation may have to do for fifteen different situations. It is like transcribing an orchestral piece for piano: The same piano key may sometimes need to represent a flute, and other times represent a violin, because there just isn’t enough variety in piano to correspond to all the variety in a full orchestra.

    It sounds to me like you were experiencing “foo” not “bar” with your friend, and had you not already been someone who wrestled with SSA, you’d have left it at that. But because you are, you wondered whether this was in fact “bar,” not “foo?” And of course, the emotions associated with it were no help at all, because they’d have been pretty much the same either way, because they represent a transposition of two distinct things (on the intellectual and spiritual realm) down to a medium where there aren’t two distinct ways to feel them.

    Sound plausible?

  • R.C.

    Oddly, I just posted a note to Eve, which I followed a minute later with another post extending on (and referring to) the one posted earlier.

    However, the earlier one hasn’t shown up yet, though the later one already has.

    I am befuddled. Any ideas, editor/moderator?

  • Brian Saint-Paul

    Oddly, I just posted a note to Eve, which I followed a minute later with another post extending on (and referring to) the one posted earlier.

    However, the earlier one hasn’t shown up yet, though the later one already has.

    I am befuddled. Any ideas, editor/moderator?

    Ouch! I’m terribly sorry R.C. — I only see this message and the one before it (10:31pm). Nothing else came through.

    Again, sorry!

  • GregK

    Catholicism clearly attracts more than its fair share of homosexuals. There are any number of reasons why this might be, and you have pointed to a few possibilities. But it’s nice when people admit it.

  • Red Cardigan

    While I commend Eve for her quest to live faithfully and her willingness to think creatively, I think that the nature of same-sex attractions is such that attempting to form lifelong chaste partnerships is fraught with peril, in the “near occasion of sin” sense.

    If I may use a heterosexual analogy, there are many divorced Catholic Americans who, despite a somewhat problematic annulment process in this country, are unable to have their particular marriages annulled because it is clear that they were, in fact, validly married in the Catholic Church. Some of them must separate from their spouses for just reasons–but having done so, and having the knowledge that their heterosexuality is an intrinsic and important part of their human natures, are they then free to form special friendships with a particular person of the opposite sex, to make public vows with this person, and even to live with this person chastely for the sake of friendship, affection, and emotional support, even though they know there is no possibility that they can ever be validly married to this person in the Church?

    Of course not. The few rare circumstances in which the Church allows a couple to live as “brother and sister” include during the process when they are waiting for final word on an annulment (if there are children) and also when they cannot be validly married but have already had children, at which point they may sometimes remain together for the sake of the children–though not everyone thinks this is a good idea, as it is still a grave source of temptation for the couple. At the very least, such situations require a careful case-by-case analysis by wise pastors and spiritual directors, and are never a blanket recommendation for everyone in this type of circumstance.

    However, both of the above situations imply that children of the relationship are present, who will be deprived of either their mother or their father should the couple separate. This is not the same thing as letting some person (childless or not) form subsequent relationships following a separation from a validly-married spouse. There is no provision whatsoever for a divorced person who is not free to marry in the Church being able to form a close, specific, “best-friend” friendship with a member of the opposite sex, to publicly vow that friendship, and even to live with that person–nobody would seriously propose such a thing, despite the incontrovertible reality that a divorced person also struggles with temptations against chastity, loneliness, isolation, and sometimes (sadly) as much approbation and judgment as a person with SSA might experience.

    If it is not prudent to expect an opposite sex unmarried couple to be able to live chastely under the same roof, or to maintain chastity while pursuing a close friendship with strong sexual attraction as the underlying reality of that friendship, then it is not prudent to expect the same sort of thing from people who struggle with SSA. However deeply we may sympathize with those people traveling along that road, we can’t deny the strength of the sexual passions or the reality of human nature in seeking to help our SSA brothers and sisters to follow Christ.

  • Blago the Fool

    Speaking as a gay man, I would have no problem with ripping apart the life I’ve built with my partner if there was some point to it, such as if I was drafted in a just war, called to do humanitarian work, etc. But what you’re saying is that I have to end the central project of my life — my relationship with my partner — for reasons that don’t even involve helping anyone! What you’re saying is that, for reasons beyond anyone’s comprehension, God loves to see gays “sublimate the gay,” just like Zeus loves the smell of burnt offerings. Right. As Huck Finn said: “All right, then, I’ll go to hell.”

  • S. Murphy

    Red,

    I’m in the Marine Corps, ie, constantly surrounded by athletic, healthy males, but I haven’t experienced every waking moment (or even many) of my profession as an occasion of sin. I’m pretty sure, based on personal experience, that chaste friendships, as well as chaste professional relationships, between straight men and straight women are possible and not all that uncommon.

    Similarly, my fiends in grad school included gay men and women as well as straight ones. I never felt that my gay female friends were lusting after me. ‘Your aiblins nae temptation’ is certainly a possibility; but I’m just not sure same-sex friendship is automatically that problematic. Eve is talking about something else than walking around constantly thinking “I MUST NOT think of my friend/vowed sister/roommate THAT WAY,” and given that, gay or straight, most people do form friendships with people of their own sex, that something is worth considering, even if it’s not formally enshrined in some way.

  • Julianne Wiley

    This article, Eve, is quite wonderful, and I pledge myself to read it a second and a third time, more slowly and more meditatively.

    I am rejoicing because you exist, and because you think, feel, value, judge, love, and — important — write excellently, the way you do.

  • Sean

    wow. this is a great post. Dreadnought mentioned this on his site. You hashed it out more. I will definetly look into this chaste friendship. Thanks for the post.

    I should’ve known the Church would have an answer for this. She is universal and for everybody after all.

  • Misty

    Eve, run to our Holy Father. He is the head of our family, the Church, and his wisdom will guide you in the right direction.

    Although I had read many books about chastity, I could not fully comprehend it until I read Theology of the Body. As well, do read the encyclicals of Popes Paul, John Paul, and Benedict. They are unbelievably eye-opening.

    The truth is in church teaching directly from the source. Beware someone’s take on the truth.

  • Pingback: Corpus Christi and Gay Pride coincided

  • Pingback: “A Better Conversation about Homosexuality”

  • Pingback: Romoeroticism for Straight Guys

  • Pingback: Do we care too much about marriage?

  • Pingback: An Introduction to Me, For Readers of the Atlantic

  • Pingback: Yay Denver, home of happiness! | Spiritual Friendship

  • Pingback: Is Being Gay Sanctifiable? | Spiritual Friendship

MENU