‘Struggling’ with Same-Sex Attractions?
“The whole life of men, both individual and social, shows itself to be a struggle, and a dramatic one, between good and evil, between light and darkness.” (CCC 1707)
Recently there was an article in the Register that featured snippets from the stories of three people: Joseph Sciambra, Dan Mattson, and myself. While I was (and am) very honored and humbled to have been included among their names (as I look up to both of them), there was something about the article that I needed to address – not just for me, but possibly for others.
Wording (and Nuance) Matters
In that article, it was said that we “struggled” with same-sex attractions. Struggled. Now, I can’t speak for Joseph and Dan, but for me, the existence of same-sex attractions was not really a struggle. Rather, I sort of noticed them and accepted the reality of that experience (even though I wasn’t thrilled about it). In fact, it could be said that saying that I “struggled with same-sex attractions” actually mischaracterizes my experience overall. I know the author (Jim Graves) didn’t intentionally do this, but I think the implications of this wording is worth fleshing out. I hope to describe my reasons below for your prayerful consideration.
The main reason for me is that the struggle wasn’t with the existence of a particular attractions, but rather it was a struggle with chastity and falling to lust. I knew that every time I would entertain thoughts of sexual encounters with men, it always involved the road (and collapse) to lustful thoughts. And all the time, it was connected to the use of pornography. I wrote about that experience in an article entitled How Porn Made Me Attracted To Other Guys, and with close to 100,000 views, I knew that this was something to which other people could relate. (This was also listed as a recommended resource in the Executive Summary of the Living the Truth in Love Conference held at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas (Aquinas) in Rome, Italy, on Oct. 2, 2015.) Again, I fully acknowledge that this is not everyone’s experience, but with numbers like that, I know I am far from being alone in it.
What I had also come to realize, however, was that as an unintended aftereffect of pursuing a heart of chastity (and temperance), the same-sex sexual attractions I was experiencing diminished. Again, throughout that span of time, never did I see same-sex sexual attractions as being my struggle, but rather it was my struggle to live the virtue of chastity. As well, interestingly enough, after practicing chastity and temperance for a (long) while, I gained some confidence in myself as a man. Through this new-found confidence, I noticed that the same-sex romantic attractions I was experiencing diminished as well – for I was no longer looking toward other men to give to me what I perceived I lacked. Throughout that span of time, never did I see same-sex romantic attractions as being my struggle, but rather my lack of masculine self-confidence. Also worth noting is that this increase in masculine confidence (which made me no longer afraid to be a man) literally wiped out all prior transgender inclinations as well – which I now see were connected to my struggle with accepting myself as the man God created me to be.
But Wait, There’s More
Those are but three of the reasons why the phrase “struggle with same-sex attractions” is inaccurate for me. However, there are a few other things that I believe are worthy to consider, especially in this time and era. And the overarching idea has to do with how speaking about “a struggle with same-sex attractions” can often be deeply connected to efforts of mere behavior management. Compare that to speaking about a struggle with pursuing chastity (or any virtue), which elevates the conversation to be about the state of one’s heart. This difference is very important for several reasons:
1. When focusing on the state of one’s heart, the conversation shifts squarely to how it is our choice to open our hearts more completely to the Lord, or not. Through this, we see how it is not about the Church rejecting people, but people choosing to reject the Church. This is incredibly valuable because it undermines “victim” mentality. Indeed, when I used to self-identify and define myself as gay (and then transgender), to some degree, I saw myself as a victim of the oppressive church that wouldn’t “let” me behave in the way I thought I ought to, in order to find happiness. Of course, my perceptions of what I ought to do to find happiness was anchored on my perception of self. In fact, when I used to self-identify and define myself in those ways, and desiring fulfillment in the ways that the world had offered me, it was me rejecting the Church the whole time.
2. When focusing on the state of one’s heart, we shift the conversation away from being anchored first and foremost on behavior. And this matters possibly more than anything at this point in history because if we are talking about behaviors that apply to only certain groups of people, then we can place ourselves at risk of being charged with discrimination. This is already true in places like Canada (where there have been changes to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms) and I anticipate that laws such as these might trickle into the United States over time unless the current trajectory is averted. And while I obviously don’t stand for discrimination against people who share my experience of particular attractions/inclinations and also the navigating of questions surrounding this topic, I do think that we would do well to consider how being (unintentionally) reckless with our language might not be the most effective way we can serve God. In other words, though there may be a form of martyrdom on these topics in the future, we don’t need to seek that out today.
3. When focusing on the state of one’s heart, we no longer fall into the trap of making assumptions about a person’s life experience. This one is fairly self-explanatory. Not everyone sees the experience of same-sex attractions as a struggle. In fact, using the phrase “struggle with” (or worse yet, the phrase “suffer from”) can serve to alienate the very people we are hoping to connect with. And on a personal level, I know that no one likes it when assumptions are made about them and how they feel. Note, however, that this is different from making assumptions about the attachments of one’s heart, based on one’s choices.
It’s About Everyone
In short, if we speak first and foremost in terms of virtue (which pertains to the state of one's heart), and remember that the Church is merely inviting all people to open their hearts more completely to the Lord, then we move away from speaking first and foremost about behaviors. That is, we move further away from language that may be deemed discriminatory towards a particular group of people who choose to commit themselves to particular behaviors. This matters because it seems that laws about discrimination seem to be popping up more and more (and seem to be having further and further reach). I have known some people, however, who have literally told me that “anything short of affirmation is hate,” so I think it is safe to say this is a very delicate road to be on. (I had coffee with one of these people a while back - the nice thing is that even though we don't see eye to eye, we are still able to chat about complex things like this one on one).
Anyway, due to the ways our laws are shifting, where even expressing the invitation to live chastely may be difficult, we might have to take it one step further: invite people through the way we strive to live our lives, by the joy we radiate. And truthfully, I think we should have been leading with this all along. I feel very strongly about that because I know that is what it took for me to open my heart to what the Church had to offer. It wasn't a command to change my behavior nor was it an invitation to pursue chastity that cracked my heart open. Rather, it was the lived example of someone like you, who radiated the beautiful fragrance of Christ so profoundly that I would stop at nothing to pursue Him more than anything else.
So let us please remember: even if Christianity itself were to one day become outlawed altogether, still, no human has the ability to outlaw Christ. And in the meantime, He will continue to make Himself known to us in the ways that He best sees fit for the time. And in that, we can always find joy, regardless of what is happening in this world.