There have been a deluge of articles on homosexuality of late within the Catholic and other Christian faith communities, many which seem to center around “what to call” those of us from homosexual backgrounds who are now celibate. This is obviously of great importance to many people, and there is certainly some validity to the desire on the parts of those who, whether from homosexual or heterosexual backgrounds, wish to clearly define “what” those of us who have dabbled in erotic thoughts or behavior with people of our own gender should be termed as. To be honest that is the least of my problems when I get up in the morning and drag my ever-older body to work each day or go to Mass on Sundays or weekdays. It seems to matter not at all to our Lord Jesus Christ or to the Blessed Mother when I pray my Rosary at night either. But it matters to society, and I get that point. And that is why I write this essay.
Let me start out by saying that I am not writing this to attack those who may disagree or may find fault with my views here—I get, very much first-hand in fact, the reasons for using terms such as “celibate gay,” as well as those who may refer to themselves as “ex-gays” (mostly within evangelical Protestant circles). I have also noticed that the term SSA (which I prefer, and which means “same-sex attracted” ) is becoming increasingly hijacked by many who do not understand its current connotations in the first place but who choose to use it in some cases against those of us who have come to a decision of celibacy and are aiming for ever-increasing chastity. I will add that I have noticed this trend to constantly redefine terminology among both “pro-gay” and “anti-gay” people, which is what makes it increasingly ironic and baffling to me.
Metamorphosis and Phraseology
But that in itself does not make one set of terms wrong at all times, nor the other one always correct. I will deal with each of these semantics then, share my own observations on why they seem to be increasingly used, abused and misused, and finally give some concluding thoughts, and I do so fully respecting those who may disagree with my pre or post-suppositions. I think that words can create a metamorphosis, and I am noticing a whole lot of folks who are using them incorrectly while feverishly trying to explain me to myself. This then is my first point—please do not tell me who I am. Let me explain myself to you instead, just as I would hope you choose to do with me, and let me use the terms and understandings I have come to accept as a Catholic Christian. That is called mutual respect. Is there room for dialogue and discussion? Absolutely. But in the final analysis how I define myself is up to me. And ultimately God.
First off I resisted the term “SSA” for a long time, even after returning to the Church after 15 years of “gay activism.” It still seems clumsy to me at best, and like a clinical disease at worst. I would prefer to say I am “same gender attracted,” but even that was suggested to me by a fellow blogger to cause its own confusion since not all agree on what gender even is in these days. Yikes! Besides if I started calling myself SGA then absolutely no one will know what I am referring to—not the least because it sounds more like a supermarket than a condition. So, SSA will need to do for now. But why use it in preference to “gay,” or LGBT, or (and I truly hate this one), LGBTQ? The last one should be a no-brainer in any case. I am not a “queer Catholic” or “queer” anything else. I am a human made in the image of an infinite God. And so are you.
What says the “LGBT community?”
To understand the connotations of “gay” as opposed to SSA, we need look no further than leading experts within the actively LGBT world. The explanation and definitions below are from http://www.pridenet.com/history.html, and not much could better show the ever-changing meaning of words than what is written on their site. An excerpt is below as well:
“The word (gay) started to acquire sexual connotations in the late 17th century, being used with meaning “addicted to pleasures and dissipations”. This was by extension from the primary meaning of “carefree”: implying “uninhibited by moral constraints”. By the late nineteenth century the term “gay life” was a well-established euphemism for prostitution and other forms of extramarital sexual behavior that were perceived as immoral.
The use of the term gay, as it relates to homosexuality, arises from an extension of the sexualized connotation of “carefree and uninhibited”, implying a willingness to disregard conventional or respectable sexual mores. Such usage is documented as early as the 1920′s. It was initially more commonly used to imply heterosexually unconstrained lifestyles, as for example in the once-common phrase “gay Lothario”, or in the title of the book and film The Gay Falcon (1941), which concerns a womanizing detective whose first name is “Gay”. Well into the mid-20th century a middle-aged bachelor could be described as “gay” without prejudice.
By the mid-century “gay” was well-established as an antonym for “straight” (respectable sexual behavior), and to refer to the lifestyles of unmarried and or unattached people. Other connotations of frivolousness and showiness in dress (“gay attire“) led to association with camp and effeminacy. This range of connotation probably affected the gradual movement of the term towards its current dominant meaning, which was at first confined to subcultures. The subcultural usage started to become main-stream in the 1960′s, when gay became the term predominantly preferred by homosexual men to describe themselves. Gay was the preferred term since other terms, such as “queer” were felt to be derogatory. “Homosexual” was perceived as excessively clinical: especially since homosexuality was at that time designated as a mental illness, and “homosexual” was used by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to denote men affected by this “mental illness”. Homosexuality was no longer classified as an illness in the DSM by 1973, but the clinical connotation of the word was already embedded in society. By 1963, the word “gay” was known well enough by the straight community to be used fluently.”
“Not so gay” these days
When you read the above history and definition, given to us from the best research within the actively LGBT communities, the realization is apparent that the term pretty much assumes active involvement in the lifestyle and support of the overall homosexual community. Since I am celibate, and I have withdrawn my support for such things as unconditional “marriage equality” and the like, dropped my memberships from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and OUTFRONT Minnesota, no longer attend or participate in Pride parades, and relinquished my position where at my place of employment I had been the lead “LGBT” spokesperson for several years, all of which were only parts of activism activities I was involved with over the course of 15 years, I am not acting, by the actively LGBT’s own definition, particularly “gay” these days. So there is not much of that lifestyle left in my life other than a still definite attraction to members of my gender. And I am definitely a man, despite the screen/blogger name “Catholicboyrichard.” But I will admit to being little more than a child when it comes to the Faith. In fact, none of us are. If St Paul called himself “chief of sinners” then what am I? Or any of us?
My point—I do not live as a “gay person” and yet I would be lying to deny the existence of those attractions. So what am I? I no longer identify with a community I was bound integrally to for 15 years, however nor am I suddenly “macho man” plus. Plus, yes, macho no. The most macho thing I probably have learned over the years was how to become a couch potato, and my doctor is not putting up with that these days anyway. Oh well. So back to the definitions—I am someone with something. I am a person, in the image of God my Maker, marred yes by sin, but in His Image nevertheless. I have leanings towards and see the beauty in other males more quickly than I do with females. That is it. I am “same-sex attracted.” SSA. The term fits and makes sense to me. But I am not “gay,” which implies an innate make-up in my being that I am powerless to do anything about other than to but accept. There is an old commercial (for Oil of Olay—or “Oil of Delay” as a friend of mine used to call it) which says “I do not intend to age gracefully—I’ll fight it every step of the way.”
The measure of a man?
That is how I view my SSA tendencies. And when I say “fight it,” I do not mean I must become a boxing fan, watch excessively violent TV or movies, or start passing gas or burping in public places. I am still allowed to be a fairly sensitive, kind-hearted person and to prefer cooking or reading to football. It may surprise the straight men reading this that Jesus Himself was pretty “not-so-macho.” Let’s see—He wore a robe all the time, hung around with men constantly, loved women but never made passes at them or checked out their rears, secretly or otherwise, cooked for the 12 Apostles on occasion (fish for breakfast, anyone?), and shared parables and stories based on His own hours of prayer and studies. In short He was strong but knew when to be tender. And in His day and age, the societal standards of what made men “manly” were in any case somewhat different from ours today. This is exactly my point in fact. He showed us that the “measure of a man” consisted of very different things than what Americanized John Wayne types of guys currently look for. And since the sports of choice in His day involved such things as throwing people to the lions for lunch, using them as human torches, and earning their freedom from noxious slavery by “killing their way to the top” via gladiator activities, I doubt He was particularly an athletics aficionado either. He loved worshipful music and knew Sacred Scripture as if He wrote it—oh wait, He did! He could be tough as nails (not only such as the ones used to torture Him on the cross but the type apparently used in His carpentry work) and yet gentle towards women who would gladly have had Him for their pleasure, and simply told them “Go and sin no more.” He was the quintessential man of men. We need to look no further for what makes one manly. And the same may be said for our Blessed Mother in regard to womanhood. Mary was the original authentic feminist—and the only person to ever get by with telling Jesus when to begin His miracle ministry at the wedding in Cana. She followed Him but never doted. She submitted to St Joseph but never backed down from her high calling or “fiat” even when he was ready to divorce her for becoming pregnant outside of wedlock while engaged to him. And she worked and travelled all through her pregnancy until the very day our Lord and Savior was born. “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy could have easily been her theme song too, not just the famous feminism theme of the 1970s. She truly was and is womanhood personified.
One of the best lists of “manly” characteristics in the New Testament is in 1st Timothy 3:1-3. I am quoting from the RSV (Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition) here:
1 The saying is sure: If anyone aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task. 2 Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, 3 no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money.
That is what being a “real man” is all about and nothing else. My point is this—neither our King of Kings nor His and our Queen Mother followed social norms, even of their own days, as to what being “manly” or “womanly” supposedly meant then or now. The asexual parts therefore of my nature, which may or may not have indirectly contributed to my SSA leanings in some way, are not in themselves sinful, and do not need surgical removal. In fact there are a few of them I would prefer to keep intact. That is part of what scares me about some aspects of so-called reparative therapy, but that is for another time and post.
Label or description?
In any case this is why I believe we sell our actively LGBT sisters and brothers short when we do not call ourselves by the correct terminology. If we use inane expressions such as “that’s so gay” or, worse yet, call ourselves “queer Christians,” we are telling them essentially that we are at no different place in our journey than they are. Such self-identification may get our foot in the door occasionally, witness-wise, but it makes it overall at least more difficult to differentiate between our experiences and theirs. St Paul was a God-loving and strict Pharisee fundamentalist—but a Christ-hater. He called all of those involvements and accolades for being one of the elite religious of the day “dung.” My good friend Chris Kluwe of MN Vikings/NFL fame would likely have had an even more clear term for that, I am sure. I will refrain from printing it here though. Just as an aside, Kluwe by the way still has my utmost respect for standing in solidarity with the LGBT/SSA community, even though I now clearly disagree with some of his conclusions regarding so-called “marriage equality.” Nevertheless I call my years of “gay pride” exactly the same thing–dung. And no, I do not call actively LGBT people by such a term. They, like me, are precious people in the image of a wondrous and holy God. But, as in the beautiful (unfortunately out-of-print) book by David Morrison, Beyond Gay, I am at least, step by slow step, moving beyond that familiar world. And I want to take my actively LGBT/”gay” friends and family with me on that journey.
Thus here is where I differ from those who wish to be called “gay Christians” or “queer Catholics”—I do not think referring to myself as a “celibate gay Christian” is particularly accurate or truthful. I think it automatically transports me into a corner of the world I no longer belong to. It seems to me a lot like calling myself, as a close friend of mine who happens to have epilepsy, an “epileptic.” Clinically, both terms are accurate. But one says I am something. The other says I am a human person with something. And, again, words matter. One is a label, and the other is a description of an imperfect but real creation of God. One makes me sound like an “ex-con” and the other like a current and present member of the family of our Lord Jesus and His Church. Which would you like better if you were in my shoes?
Disorder or condition?
Lastly, I have heard the ghastly use of the term SSA of late by someone referring to same-sex attraction as the “SSA disorder.” Whether involved in the community or not, whether celibate or not, or even whether I term myself as “LGBTQ,” I might happen to be a doctor, lawyer, priest, minister, married or single, well-adjusted or poorly so. I get very disturbed when I hear or read such things as “for we know that the gay lifestyle leads to a higher risk of HIV, depression, substance abuse, and a generally lower life expectancy. To oppose the normalization of a lifestyle that leads to this degradation of the human person — specifically the same-sex attracted person — is no hate at all, but a love. Not a love most people want, but a desire for the good of the beloved nonetheless.” If by that statement you are referring to same-sex “marriage,” I would clearly agree. But if by it you mean let us go backwards a bit further as a society and, for “their own good,” let’s get those anti-sodomy laws back on the books and start screaming “faggot” to the next homosexually inclined person we meet, then I would just say hold up. Now. 50 years ago, or less, it was commonly considered “acceptable” to beat up “queers” or at least bully them mercilessly. I was there and lived it. Less than 30 years ago it was a very real question within the health care industry as to whether we should even treat those with HIV, since they “brought it upon themselves.” I can only say then, please quit treating diabetes or heart disease, which are often direct results of obesity, or cancer, particularly if caused by smoking, and a host of other diseases or conditions which are preventable but deadly. And for God’s sake do not waste our tax dollars on preventative health education. Let them read it on their own via the ever-reliable information superhighway. And if they fail to do so, slam the hospital door in their faces. Just don’t miss Mass on Sunday
So how does this fit with the misleading term “SSA disorder?” Quite easily in fact. If I as a human being am disordered, and I will concede that the wound of having SSA does include a “disordered passion,” so too are my non-SSA friends who undress every woman that they see while sitting by their wives in Mass or church, as well as the pastors (some statistics would say 50% or upwards) who have their occasional slippage into the world of pornography. And “porn” is not what it was when I was 14 and sneaked a look at some old Playboys found in the neighbor’s dumpster by my friend Marty. The most I ever saw at that time was the human body, but never in action as such. The fact that 10 year olds can now see actual sexual intercourse, neither hinted at nor suggestive of, but the real thing, including the climax, by the click of a button, should alarm us drastically. Do not call me “disordered” and then forget to include yourselves as part of the photo-op. We are all disordered in some way or another, and when the term was originally used in the Church it was quite clear that this was the case. When St Thomas Aquinas and Rome included that term, it was the overall passions of humans gone awry which they were referring to, not the modern Freudian or clinical definition of the word, used primarily in our day and age to mean that SSA is somehow just a bit more disordered than what the average person deals with. We already know we are a fallen people—so perhaps just look in the mirror if you think you are less “disordered” than I am.
So those are just some of the many reasons I am not defining myself as “gay” anymore. It does not mean I have been instantly or miraculously delivered from the “demon of homosexuality” or that I now can throw a football 100 yards. It indicates I am not demarcated by anything I was, or even still struggle with—whether weight, sexual lust towards either gender, gossip, or slandering of others. It states that, instead of being born a Capricorn, I was born again through baptism under the sign of the Cross. It means I am, and will be, a Catholic Christian. No more, and nothing less.
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The following are two very much opposing views on the topic by two NFL players, both whom I have met and happen to deeply respect, Chris Kluwe and Matt Birk. Beware of the rather “colorful” (but hilarious) language from Kluwe, and at the same time note the very respectful response from his friend and fellow former MN Viking Matt Birk.