The modern day LGBT movement wants you to believe that the people featured in the new documentary “Desire of the Everlasting Hills” really don’t exist. They are figments of the fevered imaginations of the Christian right.
Meet Dan, Rilene and Paul, all refugees from deep enmeshment in the LGBT life, each finding a home in sexual sobriety and, not incidentally, the Catholic Church.
It is impossible to watch this important documentary without tears, and not sad tears either, but happy ones, tears that come from a joyful movement of the spirit.
These are people who have been deeply wounded by the choices they have made and who have struggled through to a profound peace.
The documentary makes its world premier this weekend at the annual conference of the Courage apostolate in Philadelphia. Courage is the Church-approved movement of same-sex attracted men and women who have decided to step away from that life and to reengage with who they really are and were meant to be.
The readers of these pages and the pages of First Things will recognize one of them—Dan Mattson—from his jousting with the group we call The New Homophiles. He is open about his struggle with same-sex attraction but insists it does not define him. He tells his story in great detail in this new movie.
Mattson was at once attracted to men but at least initially repelled by what happens sexually. Expecting fireworks, his first time was an enormous letdown, and then depression and shame. “What have I done?” he asked himself over and over as he drove back home.
Early on in his search for the gay life, he googled “I am gay and….” The first result was “…and I want a boyfriend.” The second result was “…and I want to die.” He understood this while he was never suicidal; he thought death would be welcome.
He prayed fervently for the same-sex attractions to leave him. Better to be a leper than gay. When the feelings didn’t leave, he turned on God. He still believed but he hated Him, indeed wanted Him dead. God made promises that he could not fulfill. His promises were hogwash. Mattson says he would pass the Cathedral in his town and almost every day “shoot it the bird.”
He dove into the gay life.
Was Mattson ever attracted to women? He went to a strip club and struck up a conversation about gardening with the woman trying to give him a lap dance. She gave him gardening tips that he uses to this day.
Mattson had only one real boyfriend and for a time he was happy. But he longed for a family, for children. On the verge of finally telling his family that he was with a man, Mattson fell in love with a woman at work.
Dan says in the year he was with her he felt once more that God loved him and when that broke up he was tempted to go back online to find guys but he was “convinced the path to peace” was not that way. Quoting C.S. Lewis, Mattson says the boy in pain chooses safety but the man chooses to find the meaning of suffering. Safety for Lewis was turning from God as was Mattson’s, in addition to porn and meeting guys online. And now he has chosen the way of the man.
He sees his whole life has been a search to understand himself and to find consolation and that he has found both in the commandments of God. When he passes the Cathedral these days, the one he shot the bird at, he sees those three domes as a sign of beauty, a harbor that he embraces. Mattson says, “We were made for better stuff than what we settle for. My whole life I settled. I don’t want to settle anymore even if it means a life of being single.”
Where Mattson’s was an immense interior drama played out on the tiny stage of small town life, Paul played his out in the gilded and dangerous playground of New York in the 1970s.
Paul started the gay life at 15 on the beaches of Miami, eventually becoming an international model in New York. He was one of those beautiful people literally hanging out with Cher at Studio 54, drenched in “drugs and sex and disco.”
Paul said Manhattan in those days “was like finding Oz. If you were good looking, it was totally heaven.” He spent much of his time cruising for men. Once in Rome he read in his gay travel guide that the Coliseum was the place to pick up strangers though his plans were foiled because it was Good Friday and John Paul II was there leading an enormous crowd in the Stations of the Cross. His libido was stilled but only for a few hours and he went cruising someplace else.
He says his sexual appetite was insatiable, “frantic.” He went through “dozens, and then hundreds and eventually thousands of men, becoming insensitive to what it means to be with a partner both body and soul.”
Paul was frantic sexually at the time and place where HIV/AIDs first struck and did such devastation. One of his lovers was among the first 900 people diagnosed with the deadly disease. He says, “90 percent of my friends got AIDs and died.”
He moved to San Francisco to get away from the death and dying in New York. He moved in with a man, into a huge house on lots of property in Sonoma County though he did not end his promiscuity.
You might think that Paul worried about AIDs. He did but just assumed, after thousands of men, he was infected like all of his friends. So, he never got tested. But then AZT was discovered, the drug that adds years to the HIV patient’s life.
Going for a test, he says, “I remember so clearly driving down Dolores Avenue feeling doomed and then a ray of sunshine came through the sun roof and I felt peace and comfort. And then I heard a voice, from the center of my being, saying you do not have AIDs because you have too much to do to make up for how you have been living.” He said he knew with certainty that the words were true, and when the doctor confirmed he was negative “was the most wonderful feeling in the world.”
And then he met Mother Angelica.
Watching TV late into the night and early morning after a night of frantic sex, he was flipping channels “and an image came on my television that was so strange.” He called out to his boyfriend to come and look. Together they mocked Mother Angelica, who at the time had an eye-patch and a quite obvious stroke. They called her the pirate nun.
But when his boyfriend left the room she said “something so intelligent, real and honest; ‘God created you and I to be happy in this life and the next. He cares for you. He watches your every move. There is no one you know who can do that.’”
She became his dirty little secret. He would hide her from his boyfriend, changing the channel when he turned the TV off so that EWTN would not come up when it was turned back on.
Paul eventually went into a Catholic Church, hiding himself so no one would see because, as eventually happened, he would lose friends and clients if they knew. Eventually he went to confession and “confessed all Ten Commandments.”
Paul says, “I was happy. I was in Toyland, Never-Never land in New York City. Some of my most euphoric moments was when I was with beautiful and famous people in penthouses overlooking the spectacular skyline of New York City and I have got to tell you, that happiness, that euphoria that would have lasted me a lifetime pales next to when I am taking the body and blood of our Lord in Mass.”
No matter what the sexual left says, Paul and Dan are real, as is Rilene who quite unexpectedly spent 25 years in a lesbian relationship. Each went into a life they found ultimately unsettling, unsatisfying, even repellent, and though sometimes lonely, each of them knows what Rilene says at the end of the movie.
She is talking about what the young Rilene would say about “Church lady Rilene.” The young version of her would “laugh hysterically. All that church stuff is for people who are weak, people who can’t get it together, people who are poor and sick and can’t manage their lives.”
“True enough,” she says. “Here I am.”
“Contentment comes with a sense of peace and well-being and I have a sense about my life that I am safe and I’m home.”
Many in the gay life are desperate to get out. But the world conspires against them. It’s impossible. This is who you are. Those people are lying who say they are changed.
These brave people—Dan, Paul and Rilene—and all those in the apostolate Courage are living testaments to the possibilities that it can be left behind and that what opens up is not just the desire but the bounty of the everlasting hills.