Sometimes I think I must be the one in error.
In a very high percentage of Catholic media I encounter, I see terms like “gay,” “lesbian,” and “LGBTQ” used without reservation or qualification. Just a day before writing this piece, I saw a major Catholic news source use the term “gay” in this way in both story and headline.
I’ve been told more times than I can tell that getting hung up on “labels” and language is a waste of time, and that using the ideological labels of orientation and gender just isn’t a big deal—that Catholics can and should use these terms without concern.
Even fellow members of the clergy—from the Holy Father, to bishops and priests, to some of my brother deacons—use these terms, I’m told. When Pope Francis conversationally, nonchalantly, used the term “gay” in one or more of his famous in-flight papal press conferences, some said it was a seismic shift. What a big step forward in Church relations with the “LGBT community”! After all, it’s a sign of “respect” to refer to people using the words they choose to refer to themselves. And the Catechism tells us to treat “LGBTQ people” with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. I’m told I’m showing disrespect to gay folk by my rejection of orientation and gender ideology labels.
So sometimes I come “thisclose” to thinking maybe I’m wrong on this. But then I remember something else the Catechism teaches us—that we are to avoid every sign of unjust discrimination against those with same-sex attraction (CCC #2358).
Then I think: Well, what about avoiding unjust indiscrimination? As in avoiding things done without sufficiently careful judgment?
In that light, the unvarnished truth about these ideological labels is that their casual and un-careful use in both secular culture and in Catholic spheres is not an objective sign of real respect. Rather, if we really believe and profess what the Church teaches about human sexuality, using these labels is an indiscriminate counterwitness to the truth regarding God’s plan for us. Using these labels is intrinsically beneath the human dignity of the persons to whom they refer (even when the persons themselves want to use them).
It’s an “unjust indiscrimination.”
Reality Is the Hill We Need to Die On
We’ve got to think this through. Words are given meanings, ideally rooted in objective reality, but all too often only rooted in cultural ephemera. One of the words being considered—“gay”—used to mean one thing (happy). Society “repurposed” this word for a specific agenda. The new “normal” is to use the word to refer to a wholly invented “sexuality” that has been re-defined as a completely acceptable “flavor” in a recently discovered fluid spectrum of now-approved sexual attractions and identities.
This is precisely why this is the right hill to die on in the culture wars.
Now, even the words “he” and “she” stand in the way of this ideological agenda. Now “he” can no longer mean “person of the male sex” and “she” can no longer mean “person of the female sex.” Now “he” is redefined to necessarily include a person of either sex who wishes to be referred to as a male person (I’m supposed to say “any gender” instead of “either sex” to be culturally correct—but, too bad). The comparable indignity has occurred with “she.”
The very same core problem exists in both orientation ideology and in gender ideology—an utter rejection of the reality of sexual complementarity. Well, it’s not really “utter,” is it? Because the great irony of both ideologies is that masculinity and femininity (being-male and being-female) are by no means really rejected in the acting-out of homosexuality and transgenderism. Those modes of being are utterly embraced by persons with same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria. This embrace merely relativizes the bodily reality of being-man and being-woman, such that it’s no longer necessary to root maleness in a man and femaleness in a woman.
The “body-person” is easily brushed aside when we decide that the world doesn’t just include “sexuality” (singular) but instead includes a plethora of “sexualities.” This inherently contradictory perspective is more or less like honoring the Blessed Trinity as “just one god among many” worshipped right alongside an endless host of pagan gods given space in the temple you’ve decided to build. It’s a game-changing obliteration of the truth about who God really is.
Coming to Terms with Terms—and Coining a Couple More
Perhaps what we Catholics really need to do, if we are to avoid the ideological pitfall of casually, indiscriminately, accepting false “sexualities,” is to borrow a page from theology to express what we Catholics are really supposed to believe about our anthropology. We must remember that, just as the Church teaches that we are monotheists opposed to polytheism, She also teaches that we are “monosexualists” opposed to “polysexualism” (to coin a couple of clarifying terms).
If we as monotheists always seek to choose our words carefully so as to avoid any communication that would somehow seem to put the Blessed Trinity on the same level as, say, Zeus, or Baal, then as “monosexualists” shouldn’t we be doing the exact same thing with regard to false forms of “sexuality” so-called?
Understood this way, it should be clear why someone like me might cringe when encountering terms like “gay Christian” or “LGBT Catholic.” From the view of a monotheist who is also a monosexualist, combining such terms produces an admixture of error and truth.
A monotheist-monosexualist believer will be aware of the falsity of combining an erroneous polysexualistic term with a true monotheistic term. While not as obviously contradictory as “pagan Christian” or “gay heterosexual,” nonetheless the term “gay Catholic” conveys an inherent contradiction, because “gay” is a term from the polysexualist lexicon, just as much as “Athena” is from the polytheistic pantheon. Catholics are supposed to reject polysexualism just as they reject polytheism.
What Does the Church Teach? It’s Pretty Simple
Is such indiscrimination of terminology really unjust, though? Am I going beyond Church teaching when I say that “sexuality” is singular? What’s wrong with referring to the “sexualities” of lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, gender-non-conforming, gender-fluid, transgender, autosexual, pansexual, polysexual, demisexual, intersex, agender, bigender, trigender, non-binary, skoliosexual, and others? (this very list should give a clue…)
I’m highly convinced that my position is correct, based as it is on a truth found forthrightly stated in the Catechism (#2360): Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman.
Complementary monosexualism is what the Church teaches us. I’ve never seen an official teaching of the Church refer to multiple “sexualities” as God’s plan for us, nor have I ever seen any mention of a sexual “identity” other than “man” or “woman.” Based on CCC 2360, it’s simple—anything labelled a “sexuality” by culture that is not ordered toward the conjugal love of man and woman will, by definition, be a disordering of sexuality—not a sexuality unto itself.
The polysexualism of culture is a mere illusion that too readily obscures the monosexualism of natural law itself—God’s real plan for human nature.
As such, opposition to polysexualism is not merely a semantic game in which LGBTQ people are being “disrespected” by arrogant, purity-minded bigots who simply refuse to call other people by the names they prefer to use for themselves. No. Rather, calling true things by their true names—and taking a stand against false ideologies employing false labels for false things—is a frontline battle in the trench warfare of contemporary culture. We cannot abandon our posts without forfeiting crucial ground.
Fight the Good Fight Against Indiscrimination
On the contrary, we Catholics must stand our ground and uphold the natural-law truth that sexuality is a singular thing and not an endless parade of labels created by the false ideologies of orientation and gender. No one’s real dignity is enhanced when we refer to a disorder of sexuality euphemistically as a sexuality. Nor do we really honor a person when we willingly refer to an individual woman as “he” or a man as “she.” For those experiencing feelings of sexual attraction or sexual “identity” that are not ordered toward the conjugal love of a man and woman, not an ounce of respect, compassion, or sensitivity is gained via the social invention of a “polysexualistic” world in opposition to God’s monosexualistic, complementary plan for the human person.
Polysexualism is a profound form of sexual indiscrimination and is inherently an injustice to the human person. But these truths are buried beneath a mountain of pushback, both outside and inside the Church, in our current climate. This is why I’m writing again on it and why more—not less—needs to be said about the false ideologies we are battling. I cannot really treat other persons with same-sex attraction and gender-identity issues with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” if I remain indiscriminate in the language I use to describe them and the issues they face.
If I remain unwilling to communicate the countercultural truth of monosexualism to my brothers and sisters—Catholic or not—then my intentionally indiscriminate behavior becomes, ironically, a form of discrimination against the very people I’m seeking to reach.
And unless we are willing to eliminate every sign of unjust discrimination (CCC #2358), we fail the basic test of real respect, real compassion, and real sensitivity. Polysexualism is a false grail. Only the truth of monosexualism will lead the world back to true freedom and genuine flourishing for the human person.