Letting Go of “Gay”: Healing the Need to Be “Out”

Same-sex attraction is a kind of spiritual tapeworm. All such disordered sexual inclinations—toward adultery, fornication, masturbation, pornography, etc.—have that in common (so, no, I’m not singling out SSA). These temptations to lust are parasites upon our human nature. That’s the first problem.

The second problem is that a vast majority of us—including me—are too emotionally, spiritually, and sexually immature to deal effectively with these parasites on our souls. Even the Synod of Bishops’ Instrumentum Laboris released recently concludes:

Indeed, nowadays the question of affective fragility is a pressing one; a narcissistic, unstable or changeable affectivity does not always allow a person to grow to maturity…. Many tend to remain in the early stages of their affective and sexual life. (no. 33)

The Synod fathers are saying this about everyone—not just one group. And it’s a keen observation, I think. Any time we say “yes” to a disordered sexual inclination, it’s a sign that we haven’t reached our full maturity in that area of our lives.

The third problem is that, in our immaturity, we find ways to feed and not fight the parasitic spiritual tapeworm inside us. But this “feeding” is a real illusion, for these tapeworms will never be “full”—they are insatiable and incapable of being satisfied by the temporary gratifications we both willingly and sometimes unwittingly seek to give them.

Soul-Eating Parasites & “Coming Out”
By now, you may be wondering how I’ll relate this to the cultural phenomenon of “coming out” as “gay” or “lesbian” or, or, or, etc. It’s simple, really: for someone with same-sex attraction, overtly “coming out” as “gay” to the general public is assuredly a means of feeding—not fighting—the spiritual tapeworm of SSA.

Let’s distinguish “coming out” in its cultural context from other forms of SSA self-disclosure, such as telling close friends or relatives, spiritual directors, or even being “out” as a means of ministering to those with SSA. Culture’s “coming out” is quite different from these other forms.

Before we tackle “coming out” directly, though, we need a bit more light shed upon the SSA tapeworm. Just as it’s true that you can’t give what you don’t have, with same-sex attraction, you can’t receive what you already are. If you already are the self-gift that is man, it’s impossible to receive that self-gift from another man. The SSA tapeworm is this insatiable desire to do just that, and it’s impossible.

This sets up a “feeding dynamic” that can permit the parasite to grow unchecked, literally overwhelming its host. In our immaturity, we can quickly succumb to letting our lives entirely focus on growing the tapeworm. The totally uninhibited and hedonistic “gay lifestyle” comes to mind here. In this lifestyle, “coming out” has emerged as a crucial element of this feeding dynamic.

Gorging at the Emotional “Smorgasbord”
Tapeworms aren’t finicky eaters. Any direct or indirect gratification will do. Anything that permits it to grow rather than shrink is welcome. And that’s what “coming out” is—it’s an indirect form of feeding.

Think about it—a person moves from hiding their need to feed this parasite within to publicly embracing the need. It’s a calculated risk, to be sure, because being “out” opens a person to potential ridicule and discrimination, too. This suggests that the perceived benefits are seen to outweigh this high risk.

The perceived benefits to “coming out” are largely twofold. First, it places the “out” person in the context of community—a community whose essential common ground is the SSA tapeworm itself. “Coming out” contains an enormous affective payoff that includes numerous temporary gratifications that serve to feed the unquenchable, illusory desire to “receive that which you already are.” SSA is first and foremost an emotional phenomenon, not a physical one. The communal affirmation and sense of belonging to this community pays huge emotional dividends and keeps the SSA tapeworm growing, not shrinking.

The second apparent benefit is the individual response of all persons who may not be in the “gay community” but represent a huge potential for more temporary emotional gratifications. This continues nourishing the parasitic presence of SSA. Being affirmed without reference to one’s SSA just wouldn’t seem to provide the same kind of nourishment (if it provides any at all) as being affirmed with reference to SSA.

Saying No While Saying Yes
What of those who are fighting the good fight against the SSA tapeworm—seeking to live chastely, to shrink down this parasite by not engaging in physical homosexual behavior? Saying “no” to homosexual acts is an irreplacable element of the battle, but because SSA is at its core an affective issue that touches the whole human person, the fight also must be in the realm of emotion. Again, since any form of feeding will do, the task is to be aware of all forms of temptation that arise. We can go to great lengths in finding indirect sources of temporary gratification that may not be physical but are purely emotional.

As I see it, this represents the fundamental temptation facing anyone who chooses to pursue real chastity while simultaneously choosing to “come out” as “gay.” Because the SSA tapeworm is still being fed by all the temporary gratifications offered by being “out,” it’s going to become even easier for persons who say “no” to same-sex acts to devote huge amounts of emotional energy in constructing a context to continue feeding the insatiable emotional need at the heart of SSA.

An “out” person may try to seek chastity while also seeking non-physical emotional same-sex relationships. But being “out”—staying “attached” to the SSA tapeworm rather than rejecting it—belies a contradictory stance that strengthens the parasite while weakening its host. We can’t serve two masters. When we try to, we won’t achieve the kind of spiritual, emotional, and sexual maturity that authentic chastity actually requires of us.

The Real Solution: Mature Purity of Heart
What’s the solution to the “out” problem, then? How do we detach from this deep, emotional need?

Stop feeding the SSA tapeworm, even with the tiniest gratification, and focus exclusively on fighting it and shrinking it down as much as possible. This parasite is a form of “concupiscence” (original sin’s imprint that wounds human nature), and the remedy for concupiscence is grace. Grace is the salve that heals our souls, starving the tapeworms and nourishing the hosts.

In fact, this is the remedy that Pope St. John Paul II proposes for all of us who should be seeking what he calls a “mature purity” of heart. Unlike the kind of immaturity that keeps us attached and clinging to those inclinations that use us as “hosts,” mature purity of heart is achieved by diligently examining each and every inclination we experience to discern whether or not it is in keeping with true purity of heart. Mature purity of heart resolves to destroy such inappropriate inclinations, starving their parasitic hunger by overwhelming them with God’s grace.

And this is why “coming out” is so devastatingly incompatible with our universal call to holiness. It keeps a person intrinsically attached to a hunger that can never be satisfied. It approaches the SSA tapeworm with too tender an affection. Instead, we’re called to sever it from ourselves and allow God’s grace to heal the wound it has left in its wake.

We’ve got to let go of “gay.”

Deacon Jim Russell

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Deacon Jim Russell serves the Archdiocese of St. Louis and writes on topics of marriage, family, and sexuality from a Catholic perspective.

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