Writer Dan Mattson has bequeathed a lasting treasure to the Church, a spiritual masterpiece titled Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay: How I Reclaimed My Sexual Reality and Found Peace.
Might this be over-effusive praise for a book that’s only about homosexuality and identity labels? Not quite. That would be like saying St. Augustine’s Confessions was merely a book for those who have had a child out of wedlock.
In fact, sure, if you experience same-sex attraction, read this book. Also, if you seek chastity, read this book. If you want to be more holy, read this book. If you want help understanding loneliness, read this book. If you desire true joy in the midst of this vale of tears, read this book.
All in all, if you are a human who can read, read this book.
And if you can’t read, have someone else read it to you. I’m telling you, without hesitation or exaggeration, this book is that important.
I don’t say this just because I know the author and think of him as a dear friend. I say this because reading this book has touched me deeply, given me great hope and encouragement, and has helped me understand some of the areas I find most difficult about the Catholic faith—particularly the mystery of suffering and the unfathomable love God really has, for some reason, for this solitary speck of dust and spirit my parents decided to name “Jim.”
As I held in my hands this book that I believe is destined to be counted among the spiritual classics, I felt my own soul being laid bare alongside the author’s, and I could see with a great and more magnificent clarity the reality of my own existence, in all of its messiness and its God-given beauty.
In my view, few works on the human person and the interior life, old or new, could achieve such potentially life-changing results in our distracted secular age. But Mattson’s seemingly effortless yet powerfully accessible prose (I say “seemingly” because I know he works tirelessly on his craft as writer) can lead even the most casual reader toward a better and deeper understanding of God’s plan as manifested in the unshakable reality of our identity as his sons and daughters.
The book is arranged in five parts:
- a relentlessly honest and humbling narrative of Mattson’s own journey growing up experiencing same-sex attraction (where the “hard to explain” isn’t all that hard to explain, Mattson reflects) to nearly “coming out” as “gay” to discovering that God really did have a different plan for him, a future full of hope.
- a section directly aimed at “reclaiming reality” regarding sexual identity, God’s true “name” for us, and the empty promises associated with “coming out.”
- a crucial reflection on running the race of chastity and holiness with the examples of the saints to guide us.
- a “miscellany” dealing with “disorder,” true friendship and its challenges, and understanding the “gift” of loneliness.
- a reflection on “the most important things”—humility, magnanimity (what’s that?), and claiming our “belovedness” before God.
As might be seen from this synopsis, the whole substance of this book is about being truly human, not just about being same-sex attracted.
In addition, Mattson has masterfully drawn together a rich tapestry of resources that have figured prominently in his own journey to reclaiming the reality of who he is, from saints and Fathers of the Church to faithful modern spiritual writers, as well as numerous other sources that help give credence to his assertions and real depth of meaning to what he has to say. Mattson isn’t just one solo voice of truth but is really re-echoing the hard-earned wisdom gleaned by other learned writers and devoted disciples of Christ and members of his Church.
When it comes down to this book’s direct impact on the “LGBT” conversation particularly in the Catholic Church, I’d like to be frank and direct. It’s become clear to me that Catholics who “come out” and publicly identify as “LGBT” (whether defiantly dissenting Catholics or Catholics who also publicly claim to embrace Church teaching on chastity while claiming “LGBT” labels) are unwittingly putting themselves “in” something. Mattson’s book addresses this, in fact. I’ll call it the “LGBT Catholic Bubble.”
Consider for example, the fact that, on the very day I write this review, Fr. James Martin releases his new book titled Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity. Leaving aside the deeply flawed content areas of the book itself (perhaps a future essay), my first impression of the title of the book was just how breathtakingly arrogant it seems. So, this is something the Church “can” do, but by implication it’s not doing it now??
But on second thought, and particularly after reading Mattson’s book, I realized that the fundamental perspective that Martin shares with other “LGBT-positive” Catholics and groups is more woefully impoverished than it is arrogant. This perspective exists deep inside the LGBT Catholic Bubble—a bubble in which people who have in fact not reclaimed their sexual reality find themselves trapped.
No wonder those in the ideologically constructed bubble feel marginalized. No wonder they cannot see any existing “bridges” between this closed-off community and the universal (Catholic) Church. While it’s clear that unjust discrimination does exist and must be eradicated, that doesn’t change the fact that being inside the LGBT Catholic Bubble cuts off wounded, hurting people from the reality not only of their own sexual identity but also the reality that welcoming and affirming people with same-sex attraction has been happening for decades in the Church, largely through the Courage apostolate.
As I see it, Courage is not so much a “bridge” as it is a sanctuary. Courage and Encourage (the longtime apostolate for families of those with same-sex attraction) has for thirty-plus years constructed a meeting-place for those with SSA that is based squarely on reality and not on LGBT ideology. Respect, compassion, and sensitivity has been extended to all those experiencing same-sex attraction. Courage does so in ways that support the reclaiming of sexual reality, which brings peace to so many others, just as Dan Mattson describes in his book.
Fr. Martin has recently described his surprise that, by reaching out to the “LGBT community” he is also ministering to family members and friends of those who are “gay.” Maybe Martin’s own view simply cannot extend beyond the LGBT Catholic Bubble—does he not see that, since the 1980s, Courage and Encourage have been helping those with SSA and their families? Noble, truthful, effective pastoral ministry in the arena of homosexuality has been under construction in the Church for some time. Yet it remains seemingly invisible to those who at some level do not yet let God “name” them. Thus, they insulate themselves from the truth of who they really are.
Fr. Martin’s project may be a juggernaut, a Goliath, both inside the LGBT Catholic Bubble and in the secular media. But just as Elijah encountered the still, small whisper of God’s Presence not in the earthquake and whirlwind, faithful Catholics will encounter the fullness of truth not only in Mattson’s new book but in the too-often-overlooked, quiet work of the Courage apostolate as well.
Thanks be to God, anyone who reads Dan Mattson’s Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay will see all this for themselves. Through Mattson’s eyes, experience, and wisdom, readers will discover that the alluring unreality of the LGBT Catholic Bubble pales in comparison to the truth, goodness, and beauty of sexual reality as God planned it.
This is the book that can burst that bubble and bring true freedom and peace to those who are currently, even unknowingly, trapped by it. At significant personal cost, Mattson has begun a monumental work of mercy by writing and publishing this work. It’s a tremendous act of love as well, offered sacrificially to those still sweltering in the bubble of sexual unreality.
We can say a prayer of thanksgiving, readers, not only because Dan Mattson has reclaimed his own reality; he is not a “gay” man. He is a beloved son of God, made for so much more than our own feeble ideologies can offer. Even more poignantly, Mattson is offering every human person a glimpse of what it means to walk the path toward peace—a peace that only Christ, not the world, can give.