MY FACEBOOK STATUS IS ALWAYS "RUNNING WITH THE HARE AND HUNTING WITH THE HOUNDS"
: A long exchange about complicity, closets, and Catholics, with Jendi Reiter.Jendi
Hi Eve,Then I replied
I love your latest post about coming out. I've experienced the distortions of the closet, having had to participate in my two moms' cover-up of their relationship when I was a child, and it's just as you describe. (Though in my case, having to "say what you're certain won't be understood" made me an experimental poet!)
I respect your choice of celibacy as part of the faith you chose to follow. And as you said, in some environments, "coming out" as a Christian involves the same perils and benefits as "coming out" as gay in other environments.
However, in this whole discussion, I think you have to address the fact that Christians play perhaps the leading role in enforcing the terrors of the closet, and your Roman Catholic Church is a leader in that movement. Unlike "coming out" as a Christian (in Western countries anyhow), the biggest obstacle to gay honesty isn't an internal struggle against conformity. It's a discriminatory legal system that religious institutions spend a lot of money and effort to uphold and extend. Not to mention the hate crimes inspired by religious rhetoric against those diseased and dangerous gay people. In this country, "religious" means mostly Christian.
If that's the case, I feel this post needs to say so explicitly. Otherwise I feel that you sentimentalize the coming-out process too much. I know you aren't saying "Look, we Christians can go on humiliating gays because it's good for their souls!" but it's disingenuous to speak of the Valley of Humiliation as a Christian growth experience, when the Valley wouldn't exist without Christian homophobia.
But I really did like the post...
, basically just saying that I'd really liked her post about the closet as well. She added
Thanks for your kind words about my blog. I can always count on a good dialogue with you :)And I said
I had to send the email before I was completely done because the phone rang, so if you don't mind, here are some follow-on thoughts:
What I think I was saying, more concisely: Since you recognize that the closet is spiritually toxic, I don't understand how you can defend church doctrines that make the closet inevitable. What do you expect gay Christians to do once they come out?
Celibacy doesn't remove the stigma, particularly in Protestant churches, which (unlike the Catholics) don't recognize it as a vocation equal to marriage. Even for Catholics, gay celibacy isn't like priestly celibacy. You don't get an alternate social role and community as a replacement for the family life that other people enjoy. It's more like a quarantine. I always thought the purpose of celibacy was to make space for other forms of service that would be impeded by family duties—a positive discipline that allows gifts to flourish, not an incarceration of dangerous elements in yourself or society.
It sounds like your experience has been more positive, but maybe not everyone has your vocation, or maybe it's different for you because you didn't grow up in a church or a family that said there was something intrinsically wrong with you.
I've heard a lot of stories from gay Christians who were kicked out of their churches and families just for admitting that they had same-sex attraction—they hadn't acted on it, and they were actually seeking help overcoming it, but that didn't matter.
During the times when I've had to walk through the Gracious Valley of Humiliation (lovely phrase!) I know I couldn't have done it without Jesus. But that's what many gay people try to do, because religious homophobia has totally turned them off to the gospel. They're trying to come out, while being told that humanity's one true source of strength is not available to them. That's too much to ask.
YES, this is super helpful. I think some of the complicity you identify in my post is inevitable. Ultimately I think the resistance to homophobia is stronger than the complicity, but I can totally see why you would disagree if you already don't agree about what fidelity requires of gay people.
I also think you're right that celibacy isn't a "vocation" really, since a vocation is necessarily a way of focusing one's love/eros. Celibacy is a tool toward vocation.
Also, you highlight some of the places where my constant ambivalence about "humiliation" gets in the way of my theology/compassion, so that's good. I mean, I genuinely do believe in the Spenser thing. The Cross is a reward. But INFLICTING humiliation on others is a sin.
The post was aimed I think mostly at gay Catholics/Orthodox Christians (since the various complications introduced by Protestantism aren't really something I feel competent to address) and is part of my ongoing attempt to create/point out how much BREATHING ROOM Catholicism gives, really, how much freedom you can have as a gay Catholic, not solely based on my own experience but also people who had really difficult Catholic upbringings and yet embraced the faith.
Also, I wanted to address two specific points because the phrasing struck me: “What do you expect gay Christians to do once they come out?”
Well I mean, there's what I do, you know? Love your friends, perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, listen to music, be a person. Find your vocation. In the immortal words of the Pet Shop Boys, “There's a lot of opportunities/If there aren't, you can make them.”
And “It sounds like your experience has been more positive, but maybe not everyone has your vocation, or maybe it's different for you because you didn't grow up in a church or a family that said there was something intrinsically wrong with you.” Because yeah, my experience has been more positive and my family's acceptance is a HUGE part of that, but I wanted to push back slightly against the implication that it's easy for me. It's a bit of a Catch-22 really: If I talk about the hard parts, people say, “Oh, celibacy is so cruel”; if I don't, people say, “Well it's easy for her.” So I just wanted to flag that and note that things are more complicated, from my perspective, than either of those summaries.
Rargh I have a bunch more to say, but I should probably save it for the morning after! More soon. And THANKS, seriously, again, and I'm sorry if any of this is condescending, since like I said I don't always know what I'm talking about.
And sorry for the intermittent capslock. My underlining key is broken.
Then JR again
Not condescending at all, and very interesting! I am too tired to respond in depth.
But I'm going to continue to call you out on the Church's contribution to social structures that oppress and stigmatize gay people, which affects everyone in civil society whether or not they've chosen to be Catholic. I believe that stigma often remains even if someone is celibate. You still seem to be addressing this from an individual standpoint ("how much freedom you can have as a gay Catholic") and I'm trying to widen the political lens.
Looking forward to your post!
And me again
I guess I just keep coming back to the fact that complicity is inevitable because my primary commitment here is to Christ through the Church. So to the extent that the doctrine provides a rationalization or environment for bigotry or stigma, I can fight the results but I can't reject the doctrine. And I think you probably would agree if the issue were different; e.g. I am pretty well convinced that all Christians are to some extent complicit in Christian persecution of the Jews, even though obviously both of us attempt to resist that persecution.
Or to put it another way, coming out will always be difficult and humiliating as long as some large number of Christians “hold the line” on sexuality. And since I'm Catholic, I think they should hold the line. So it's worth looking for the spiritual benefits to the humiliation. But there's a huge gulf between that inevitable difficulty and the persecution faced by e.g. Wilde, which while apparently very spiritually-fruitful for him was of course deeply corrosive to the souls of his tormentors. To cast things in contemporary terms, the emotional and spiritual stress I went through w/r/t sexual orientation was probably inevitable (and not trivial), whereas my friends who were bullied or rejected by their families etc. had to deal w/actual sin, which I'm trying in various ways to fight.
a bit more from me
...The US bishops' pastoral letter to parents of gay children, while definitely not what I would write, is surprisingly good for bishops! (Part of the issue here, at least in terms of word choices, may be that I strongly resist identifying the Catholic Church with the hierarchy at any given time OR with any one style of theology e.g. natural law; those things form part of the Church and their failings can't be glossed over, but the Church is the Bride of Christ, and She's bigger than them.) And although my impression is that Catholic g/l ministries are a VERY mixed bag, some of them are quite good, including the one at my church. We get people from across the spectrum of fidelity to Church teaching, and I think both the support group and (to a lesser extent) discussion group elements work really well. We cannot be the only ones out there! So again I think the Church, even if we're only talking about contemporary Catholic responses to contemporary gay people/culture/identity, has a lot more resources than the majority of CATHOLICS, let alone other people, know about. Which is a tragedy and shame in itself, and something I'm of course trying to address....
and this from Jendi
to finish, since I think it's a great note to end on and I absolutely will be seeking to be more open about where I find the Church's representatives' current rhetoric and strategy wrongheaded:
Thanks as always for your thoughtful and open-hearted reply. Sorry to give the impression that I thought celibacy was easy for you. I respect your commitment to this spiritual discipline.
I think that I've been asking two separate questions but haven't properly disentangled them, so it's no wonder you've only addressed one of them :)
The first question is at the individual level: Does the church's position that gays should be celibate necessarily force gays into the closet because there is no fulfilling social role for them outside ordinary family structures? Speaking from your own experience, you say no. You feel that you can be out, be accepted in the church, and redirect your life force toward non-sexual human connections. (Hope this is an OK paraphrase.) I can accept that, though I still question whether every same-sex-attracted person can live a psychologically healthy celibate life. Let's agree to disagree here!
But the second question, at the political and pastoral level, is still unaddressed by your remarks. Let me try to articulate it more clearly.
Let's assume, for this discussion, that (1) same-sex attraction is unchosen (e.g. like blindness rather than adultery) and nearly unchangeable; (2) the closet is spiritually toxic; and (3) fidelity to Christ requires gays to be celibate. My impression is that you would agree with 1,2, and 3, while I disagree on 3 but will shelve that for now.
In that case, the Catholic Church has overwhelmingly failed to help gays live out that difficult vocation, and I really feel you need to acknowledge that, because it undermines people's ability to trust the Church as an authority on this issue.
As a political actor, the Church has opposed every piece of civil rights legislation that would remove the physical dangers and economic hardships of being an out gay person. Hate crimes perpetrators and discriminatory employers don't care whether you are celibate. All they need to know is that you're one of "those queers".
When I suggested that your path had been easier, I was partly thinking about your apparent freedom from this kind of discrimination. It doesn't sound like you've been afraid for your life or your livelihood as an out gay Catholic, celibate or not.
Additionally, in the Church's pronouncements on gay issues, I hear very little about pastoral care for homosexuals as homosexuals, compared to the emphasis on protecting "us" from "their" polluting influence. Particularly since the Church is telling gays NOT to form families, the Church must work extra hard to be a safe family for gays. It should be emphasizing at every turn that these are our equal brothers and sisters and that they need help with their challenging spiritual path. The Church should also teach us to appreciate the special gifts that arise from this vocation—the unique contributions of gays to the Church—the way they do with priestly celibates.
This ideal picture is not the Church as we know it today.