One of the most interesting discussions on the Internet today regards the question of the best way for those who experience same-sex attractions yet are committed to living a life of chastity to identify themselves.
These individuals accept the Church’s teaching about the immorality of homosexual acts and generally acknowledge that having homosexual desires is a disorder. They differ, however, over how to acknowledge and assess the presence of those desires in their being.
Currently, I am following postings (and the often equally fascinating comments by others) by one unmarried male committed to chastity who continues to call himself “gay,” one by a happily married woman who calls herself a “queer girl,” and another by a happily married male who identifies as a homosexual.
I am close friends with two chaste homosexual males, devout Catholics, incredibly self-reflective and articulate, who differ on whether SSA or “gay” is the better term.
Nearly all of those with SSA who are weighing in on this issue seem to think there is value in people with SSA making this known at least to their friends. They find it liberating no longer hiding something about themselves that powerfully affects their relationships.
They claim they do not want to define themselves by their sexual desires, but want to acknowledge that their life journeys have followed a certain path that has had a huge impact on who they are and how they have responded and do respond to the world.
Some of those who identify as “gay” and yet seek to be chaste recognize that retaining the labels of “gay” or “queer” poses the danger of allying them too closely with those who do not embrace chastity.
Nonetheless, they are willing to live with the likelihood of being understood (that is, misunderstood) to be endorsing the sexually active homosexual lifestyle in any way or in advocating for the normalcy of homosexuality. The words “gay” and “queer” capture something about them that they do not want to deny.
They think “gay” is a straightforward way to acknowledge that they experience same-sex desires and that these desires are deeply rooted in their being.
It expresses their sense that they are “other” — or different — and wish to maintain some sense of community with others who share these desires. One correspondent tells me that some of those who want to be known as “chaste gays” want the positive attention it can bring. He tells me others may choose it because of the negative attention it brings: It feeds their self-loathing to have others know what they perceive to be a shameful part of their being.
Some hesitate to accept the alternative of SSA because they believe it suggests they are “beyond” the struggles of others and do not wish to assume a status of “superiority.” The same correspondent nonetheless prefers “gay” since it reflects — ironically — the “desolation of soul” that he thinks homosexuals experience in a way no others do and that few if any heterosexuals can understand.
He believes the only way to truly deal with it is to cling to Christ.
Some with SSA seem to think that sufficient good has come to them from possessing and/or struggling against their same-sex desires (among them the grace of conversion to a greater reliance upon God) that they do not want to completely distance themselves from those desires. Some have experienced truly loving treatment from their past SSA partners that they do not wish to deny.
Melinda Selmys (the “queer girl” and a Register columnist) is a leader in this discussion. She provocatively states that there are “non-lustful aspects of the ‘gay’ identity” that are worthy of being embraced and celebrated. She also seems to be trying to make the case that there are some inherently good things more accessible to those who experience SSA.
This involves a lot of discussion about the nature of desire and temptation and appreciating all the various goods that human beings possess and display. Wherever her deliberations lead, I am not sure that the upshot will be that self-identifying as “gay” or “queer” is better than simply acknowledging that one experiences same-sex attractions.
All of us experience attractions to things that are not good for us, simply because of original sin. But some attractions to what is immoral are the result of deep wounds in our being, and there seems to be strong evidence that SSA springs from such wounds. Those who want to retain the labels “gay” and “queer” seem to think that the desires are ineradicable and rarely acknowledge that they come from woundedness.
The phrase “having a deep-seated homosexual orientation” used in Church documents indicates a sense that these desires have a special tenacity. Indeed, there are enough testimonies from those who have undergone prolonged therapy and have had recourse to all possible spiritual aides without relief to indicate that we do not possess any programs that can guarantee rehabilitation.
On the other hand, enough individuals testify to profiting from therapy or from accepting Christ as their Savior (and sometimes are completely and instantaneously restored to heterosexuality) or from the persevering love of an opposite-sex person that we know that varying degrees of rehabilitation are possible, at least for some.
For my part, I find the phrase “same-sex attraction” least problematic, though perhaps it does not fully capture how different the temptations that spring from SSA are from other temptations. Its advantage is that it is not a “label” fraught with political undertones, and it allows both for the possibility that those attractions may have perduring force and also that they may be overcome. And the practical reasons for using SSA should not be discounted.
For instance, I believe the Church would rightly have difficulty employing those who identify as “chaste gays or queers” for positions such as directors of religious education, but may think it healthy for those committed to chastity to identify as having SSA and be comfortable with them in public positions of leadership.
Being willing to accept the more pedestrian “person with SSA” may not be as dramatic and provocative as “gay” and “queer,” but those labels — “gay” and “queer” — seem to pigeonhole a person rather than to help a person just be a person struggling with his or her distinctive cross, however unusual it may be and unshakeable it may seem.
The postings and responses about the chaste gay/queer/SSA question help me enormously to understand the experiences and struggles and victories of those who experience same-sex attraction.
Yet, given that the Internet can be a cruel place, I wonder if it is wise for posters to be so transparent. Moreover, family and friends are reading very personal information; children may now or later be very uncomfortable about what their parents have shared.
For my part, I think it is perfectly acceptable to post and to comment anonymously or under pseudonyms. An additional advantage is that posters may be more willing to adjust or even jettison stances they have publicly avowed.
What they are doing, though, is generous and helpful, for it enables everyone to learn from those who undertake the painful effort to understand and express what the struggle with SSA truly involves.
Janet E. Smith, Ph.D., holds the
Father Michael J. McGivney
Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred
Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.