Gay, Catholic, and Thriving: A Review of Gay and Catholic by Eve Tushnet

Oct 19th, 2014 | By | Category: Blog Posts

The recent conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family has generated headline media discussion implying that the Catholic Church reached a near-watershed moment in supposedly considering revising traditional Catholic teaching on homosexuality. Echoing many American political leaders, commentators have asked whether the Church will finally get on the “right side of history”? The synod also notably coincides with the publishing of a new book on Catholicism and homosexuality by popular blogger and writer Eve Tushnet, providing us further impetus to revisit and reflect on Catholic doctrine.

For those unfamiliar with Ms. Tushnet, whose writing has been featured in The American Conservative, First Things, and The Atlantic, among others, such a conversation cannot help but be both entertaining and thought-provoking. Who wouldn’t want to know more about a Jewish atheist homosexual from Washington D.C. who decides to convert to Catholicism and live the chaste life? Such a conversion is quite a counter-cultural decision in a place that seems to be propelling cultural sentiments on this very topic. Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith does not disappoint as Ms. Tushnet tells her story with humor, but more importantly an honesty and vulnerability that is striking and commendable. The first half of her book provides not only a depiction of her “coming out” and later conversion, but also the deep dregs of alcoholism which defined a large chunk of time after she entered the Catholic faith. The latter half of the book is more of a guide to various ways gay persons who wish to be faithful to the Catholic Church can find deep and fulfilling senses of community and vocation in their new home. Although certainly important, the second half is thus less relevant to Called to Communion’s goal of furthering Catholic-Protestant ecumenical dialogue. This post will consider Ms. Tushnet’s reflections on Church teaching and tradition on homosexuality, and distill what in Ms. Tushnet’s narrative speaks to the ecumenical exchange.

A Most Unlikely Conversion

Ms. Tushnet grew up in the 1980s and 90s in a wealthy, urbanite family in Washington D.C., not far from me in time or space, though quite a different childhood indeed! She decided she was a lesbian when she was thirteen (at that age I was more interested in exploring tennis than my sexuality), a decision which, unlike that of many other teenagers, was accepted and affirmed by both her family and school. She spent the remaining years of high school exploring her sexuality as well as alcohol… and apparently her books as well, given she was admitted to Yale for undergrad. It was here that she first met conservatives she could respect in debate, including a Catholic divinity school student who argued that philosophy, exemplifying the eros of wisdom, was more important than literature. Ms. Tushnet was intrigued by the Catholic Church and her claims, and quite amazingly, entered the Rite of Initiation for Christian Adults during her sophomore year of college. Despite her reservations regarding the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and what impact this might have on her future, she was received into the Church the following Easter.

This is a good place to stop briefly and comment simply “wow.” “Wow” firstly because other than the grace of God, what persuades a lesbian Jewish girl at Yale to become a Catholic? “Wow” also because Ms. Tushnet was sufficiently persuaded by the authority, beauty, and truth of the Church to accept her in her unfettered, uncompromising totality, despite the fact that this decision would have dramatic and immediate effects on her personal life: not only sexually, but relationally with friends and family. What does Ms. Tushnet say about facing these sweeping implications of becoming Catholic? “I don’t think you need to understand every single element of a Church teaching in order to assent to its authority in your life.” This recognition of the Catholic Church’s unique doctrinal and moral authority reflects the deep gift of faith she received in this conversion process – a recognition that allowed her to realize that if the Church truly is what she claimed to be, even the confusing or demanding aspects of her teaching are morally binding on the conscience. In a sense, it reflects St. Peter’s own deepening understanding before Jesus the God-man, declaring to Christ, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Ms. Tushnet later extrapolates on her decision:

I was faced with a choice. I didn’t understand the Church’s teaching on this issue, didn’t like it, and suspected it might well be very relevant to my later life… But I knew that even Thomas Aquinas couldn’t understand everything about God. I couldn’t demand perfect intellectual understanding from myself, even on issues close to my heart. Part of the reason we have a Church in the first place… is so that we’re not left to make up our own minds on every single issue. We’re not left in the state an evangelical Protestant friend of mine self-deprecatingly described as, “So there we were, just me and Jesus…” with only the liturgy we like and only the morality we understand. The Church exists because even the saints need guidance and, often, correction.

Ms. Tushnet intuitively realized something many of us at Called to Communion also grappled with and ultimately accepted: even when we retain doubts and reservations regarding the Catholic Church’s many claims and teachings, we are faced with the question of who, if anyone, has the authority and right to interpret Holy Scripture and define doctrine? As we have argued elsewhere, the Church has a historical, credible claim to teach on behalf of Christ and His disciples. As Ms. Tushnet’s friend noted, the individual Christian standing alone with Jesus has no historical or credible claim to such an authority. Faced with the choice of deciding whether the Church has authority to teach sexual morality, or whether gay sex is morally neutral, she amazingly decided to go with the Catholic Church.

Later in the book Ms. Tushnet recounts the varying responses she received from those she told that she, a homosexual person, had become Catholic and was determined to live the chaste life. “Oh, you poor thing!” remarked one woman, “why would you do that to yourself? Why don’t you just become an Episcopalian?” This line of thinking reflects another intersection between Catholicism and Protestantism’s methods of understanding homosexuality. The Catholic Church has never taught anything different than that homosexual behavior is morally sinful, given Holy Scripture’s varying condemnations of a practice that goes against the natural sexual order. Reformed Protestantism has also historically affirmed this teaching, and many Protestant denominations continue to express publicly their condemnation of homosexual behavior based on their reading of the Bible. As Ms. Tushnet’s interlocutor wryly notes, however, some ecclesial communions such as the Episcopal church have warmed to homosexuality, and have openly declared it to be morally acceptable and defensible on scriptural grounds.

I remember reading the book The Moral Teaching of Paul: Selected Issues by Victor Paul Furnish, assigned in my undergraduate Pauline studies course, which argued that St. Paul did indeed endorse homosexuality. One can easily find many similar scriptural studies affirming that the New Testament, and Christianity more generally, affirm homosexual behavior. This raises an important question: how does the individual Christian go about determining the best interpretations of scripture on homosexuality? And at what point can that individual decide he or she has given the due diligence to understand sufficiently all the various nuances to the interpretive debates in order to arrive at some authoritative conclusion? The answer, I would hope one would see, is that one could never reach the end. Unless there is an interpretive authority of Scripture’s teaching on homosexuality, we are left to our own personal interpretations and inclinations. To go against conscience is “neither right nor safe,” but is our conscience the ultimate authority of religious truth? “Right now I think the Bible teaches that homosexuality is wrong… but if sufficiently persuaded by Scripture, maybe I won’t!” This is not to caricature unfairly those in Protestant communions who continue to reject homosexuality on biblical grounds, but to acknowledge that those grounds are shifting sands, and as they have on contraception may change with time and sensibilities or developments in biblical interpretation.

A Most Worthwhile Read

There are many other elements of this book worth praising. Probably most significant is the admission that the Eucharist is the centerpiece of Catholic life and devotion. She writes, “your vocation will flourish most when it is founded on the Eucharist and continually draws you back to the God who is love.” Indeed if the Eucharist truly is what the Church claims it to be, the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, then it is the wellspring of life that will support, form and shape us as we seek to live our Christian callings and find heaven. What better place to find refreshment, especially when one seeks and needs intimacy and spiritual communion? The Eucharist is profoundly humbling as well as we suddenly recognize that God has ordained Himself to be united to us under the species of bread and wine, that His communion with us can be so mystical yet so natural. This is appropriate in Ms. Tushnet’s own journey given how willingly and humbly she catalogs her brokenness and the mistakes she made along her journey before and after coming to faith in Christ.

One of her most striking reflections is found in her description of her struggle to overcome her alcohol addiction, remembering that at one point she found liberation in inviting God into the most embarrassing moments of her previous life, and imagined God there, still mercifully loving her. This is a profound truth, and one we can all ponder with great joy and thanksgiving: that whatever our past failures, however deeply embarrassing and shaming they may be in our own memories or sense of self, Christ was there, and He is here, still loving us, still blessing us, still pushing us forward to Himself. Ms. Tushnet has many strong words of comfort and wisdom that can apply to many of our darker moments, including an amazing anecdote regarding St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, a Chinese opium addict who was barred from the sacraments for 30 years but was martyred in the Boxer Rebellion and subsequently attained sainthood. For those striving to live the Christian life but consistently sliding back into former ways of sin and despair, such stories provide strong inspiration to pick ourselves up once again, frequent the sacraments, and live the cruciform life.

Gaps and Theological Difficulties

One void I detected amidst Ms. Tushnet’s compelling narrative and following guide to living the chaste homosexual life was the lack of a discussion of Marian devotion. She briefly mentions the rosary at two points in the book, but this is the most we hear of it. This is possibly because the book is more of an introduction than a survey, though one wonders what role the greatest of consecrated virgins might play in the life of homosexuals, and particularly lesbians, seeking to live chastely. Certainly many saints have emphasized the importance of Marian devotion in their spiritual development: St. Louis de Montfort and St. Maximilian Kolbe among many others. I would think that a broader discussion or reflection on how Mary our blessed Mother might be uniquely suited to aid Christians struggling with homosexual desires would have been most welcome and insightful.

Also of interest is Ms. Tushnet’s dislike of the word “struggle” to define her life as a homosexual Catholic seeking to live chastely. In one place she writes,

…People sometimes refer to me as “struggling with same-sex attraction.” That language ignores the fact that I don’t particularly struggle with my orientation. (I struggle a lot more with resentment toward well-meaning straight Christians who assume that I struggle with it.) And, more importantly than that, I find that it’s much easier for me to follow Christ when I think of myself as surrendering to him in all of the places where I’m tempted. Picturing myself as “struggling” with temptations of any kind makes me feel like I’m relying on my own strength and competence.

Of course, “struggle” is a word used throughout the Christian life, and not just in reference to sin. We also struggle to comprehend and accept all of the Church’s teachings, struggle to love our neighbors as ourselves, struggle to believe, again and again, that the priest’s consecration of bread and wine makes them truly God.

Yet the reasons why Ms. Tushnet doesn’t believe she struggles with homosexuality may run a bit deeper: she is dissatisfied with the Church’s teaching that homosexuality is inherently “objectively disordered,” a concept that first appears in the 1975 Vatican document Persona Humana (PH), where in section VIII the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith (CDF) declared that, “homosexual relations are acts which lack an essential and indispensable finality” and that, “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and can in no case be approved of.”1 This idea was affirmed in then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s 1986 “Letter of the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” in which the CDF declared in paragraph three, “although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.”2 It is this document in particular that Ms. Tushnet criticizes, writing:

…This passage encapsulates my basic problem with the jargon of ‘objective disorder’ when applied to homosexuality. It assumes a clear distinction between sexual desire and other forms of love, when I think the vague term ‘same-sex attraction’ does more justice to the complexity of our desires. If I make soup for my girlfriend, I’m “acting on my lesbian desires” insofar as I’m motivated by our relationship, which is a lesbian one; and yet these actions are obviously not prohibited by the catechism. To call homosexuality ‘objectively disordered,’ always directed toward and fulfilled in sexual acts, is to reduce the tangle of emotional experiences we’ve decided to call ‘homosexuality’ to only those expressions that are forbidden by the Catechism and ignore all the expressions that aren’t. I view “objectively disordered” as theological jargon that attempts to express something true but will be refined and perhaps even rejected as times goes by. The teaching will not change, but the jargon with which the teaching is articulated obviously does change and will change again.

If I am interpreting Ms. Tushnet correctly, she seems to want to find a way for the homosexual inclination or desire to exist peaceably within Catholicism, and if it can, it must in some sense be objectively good. She seeks to accomplish this by emphasizing that homosexual desire should not simply be reduced to the inclination to engage in homosexual acts with another person; rather, it would also include all the objectively good things found in romantic love more generally: service, self-sacrifice, love, charity, and all the rest. She explains this by way of imagined scenario where a lesbian does an act of charity for her girlfriend. Since the act of charity is motivated by homosexual love, this demonstrates, so Ms. Tushnet argues, that homosexual desire can be objectively good.

Yet before we accept Ms. Tushnet’s argument and imagined scenario as an accurate reflection of reality, it would be good to remind ourselves that several separate Church documents since the 1970s, including the Catechism of the Catholic Church3 have all called homosexual acts and inclinations intrinsically or objectively disordered. Exploring why this might be the case will illumine whether Ms. Tushnet is correct that the language of “objectively disordered” is ineffective at conveying the true reality of Church teaching.

Let us first consider Ms. Tushnet’s imagined scenario. Does a homosexual person’s act of charity demonstrate the intrinsic goodness of homosexual romantic love? We consider first by comparison the natural sexual relationship: man and wife. When a man does a charitable thing for his wife, he may be motivated by heterosexual love. But he is not necessarily de facto motivated by heterosexual love. He may simply be motivated by the same sort of love of neighbor that motivates him to do the same act of charity for his child, his brother, or his friend. He is simply exemplifying virtues found in human friendship, and nothing about the act of love towards his wife necessitates that it be sexual per se. If this is the case, then it would seem that heterosexual love more properly serves as a sub-category of human friendship, rather than the reverse. In turn, if a homosexual person does acts of charity out of love towards another person to whom he may be romantically attracted, this doesn’t necessarily reflect something objectively good about homosexual desire – it reflects something objectively good about human friendship and the virtuous desire to seek another’s good. Sexual love does not drive human good will and subsequent action. Sexual love is rather a particular form of human good will and action. Thus there is nothing particularly “gay” about an act of love demonstrated by a homosexual person towards a romantic interest, just as there is nothing particularly “straight” about an act of love demonstrated by a heterosexual person towards a romantic interest. Both are acts of virtue conducted within the broader category of human friendship.

Indeed to reflect further on the implications of Ms. Tushnet’s reasoning, in her understanding of sexual love, any time individuals perform a virtuous act for someone to whom they are by chance attracted, they seem to be acting out of a sexual desire. Yet all persons, single, married, or in religious life, find many people sexually attractive and do many charitable acts towards those same people. These actions are not all motivated by sexual desire, and to claim so seems quite Freudian, as if everything about the human person can be reduced to the sexual impulse. But we as Catholics do not reduce the human person to a bundle of unfulfilled, repressed sexual desires. The Catechism teaches that “chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.”4 Meaning that sexuality is integrated into a much broader and more beautiful definition of the human person than something reduced to sexual passion, one that includes an individual’s unique personality, interests, skills, and spiritual gifts, among many other things.

Finally, let us briefly consider what the Church means when she calls homosexuality “objectively disordered.” To borrow from the reasoning of Persona Humana, homosexual desire, though not by itself sinful, is still a departure from God and nature’s intended order. Only sexual desire between a man and a woman is ordered towards sexuality’s proper objective end. Even for a Catholic homosexual to live a life of chastity, inasmuch as homosexual desires remain in that person, these desires remain fundamentally disordered. That person, like Ms. Tushnet, may successfully orient much or even all of that desire to good, non-sexual ends in charity and friendship. But nothing about that reorientation towards the good remains categorically homosexual. Any heterosexual person could develop the same level of love, friendship, and intimacy with someone of the same sex.

To compare this to another behavior which defined part of Ms. Tushnet’s life, the act of getting drunk is objectively immoral. Likewise, the alcoholic’s inclination to get drunk is objectively disordered, as that inclination to sin, though not itself sinful, is oriented toward an immoral end. Even if one never commits the sin of drunkenness, there is nothing the individual can do to make the inclination to drunkenness a good thing in-and-of-itself. It remains, ad eternum, disordered, because it’s telos is disordered. The same would be true about other objectively disordered sexual impulses: viewing pornographic images, illicit sexual acts, etc. There is likewise nothing we can do to make the homosexual inclination a good thing per se.

Thankfully for homosexual persons there is nothing uniquely homosexual about what the chaste homosexual person does in living the Christian life through works of mercy. I say this not in any way to downplay the tremendous virtue and good of chaste homosexual persons’ life and actions, nor to limit their unique personhood within the body of Christ. I understand that to make such an argument can sound quite terse and unsympathetic to the lot of homosexuals as if I or the Catholic Church are denying them an important part of their self-identity by rejecting the unique goodness of their love for others. But in effect to parse out “straight” works of mercy from “gay” works of mercy is to make a distinction the Catholic tradition has never made, and which is opposed to reason. There are simply works of mercy, and doing them is not by nature heterosexual or homosexual. Even the medieval practice of forming deep, covenanted bonds of friendship, a tradition Ms. Tushnet so helpfully illuminates, was not uniquely homosexual, even if some participants could have had such desires.

David and Jonathan in “La Somme le Roy”, 1290 AD; French illuminated manuscript, British Museum.

An Important Contribution to the Conversation

We should and must affirm the goodness, beauty, and power of the life of chastity embraced by homosexuals, especially given increasing antagonism towards the Church and her teaching on homosexuality. Those who seek faithfully to live that life are incredible allies in the witness of the Church because they demonstrate that it is hard but not impossible to follow Christ through the narrow gate. We need to communicate clearly but charitably, cogently but compassionately, Catholic doctrine on this controversial subject. Yet in that pursuit, we should be wary of moving beyond the boundaries of dogma and tradition. It does us no good in our attempt to welcome and love homosexual persons to give them less than the full magisterial teaching, even when it seems difficult or unpalatable to stomach.

Alternatively, as Michael Hannon noted in a recent First Things article, there is plenty of room for humility on the part of those with heterosexual desires, given the plethora of ways we flirt or indulge other illicit forms of sexuality, yet play them off as in some sense more acceptable or less disordered than homosexual behaviors.5 Such thinking does us no good as we lie to ourselves about the deeply broken and soul-crushing over-sexualized culture of the West, while only further alienating those with homosexual impulses. It is then quite important that there be more books that are affirming to those who often have felt unjustifiably rejected or marginalized, and that point helpful ways forward toward fulfilling the call of Christ and the Church to love and holiness. No one would deny that the path of those willing to live the Catholic Church’s call to chastity as a homosexual person is a difficult one. Yet it is the right one, and Ms. Tushnet’s book has done tremendous good to provide encouragement and inspiration to those who will follow the course she has chartered. May God help and guide them, and us, as we all struggle to discern and live our vocations to love, to give, and to glorify God with all of our bodies, minds, and souls.

Our Lady of the Rosary and Perpetual Help, who so faithfully lived the chaste life, and offers us a model of devotion and self-sacrifice, pray for us!

  1. Persona Humana. []
  2. Letter of the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons. []
  3. CCC 2358 []
  4. CCC 2337. []
  5. Against Heterosexuality. []

15 comments
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  1. “One void I detected . . . was the lack of discussion of Marian devotion. . . . I would think that a broader discussion or reflection on how Mary our blessed Mother might be uniquely suited to aid Christians struggling with homosexual desires would have been most welcome and insightful.”

    Maybe this “void” that you “detected” exists because the author hasn’t found Marian devotion particularly necessary? You may need this sort of practice but she may not. In which case, there’s no “void” at all.

  2. Hi Presbyterian (#1),

    Thanks for the comment. You wrote,

    Maybe this “void” that you “detected” exists because the author hasn’t found Marian devotion particularly necessary? You may need this sort of practice but she may not. In which case, there’s no “void” at all.

    Point taken – there are certainly Catholics who don’t find Marian devotion terribly helpful – though given how extensively the Catholic Church and many of her saints have promoted Marian devotion, it would be difficult not to view it as a void in Catholic devotional practice. See, for example, Beth Turner’s 10-part CTC blog series on the rosary in honor of the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary. In any event, I doubt that Ms. Tushnet eschews Marian devotion, given that she says in her book that she prays the rosary consistently. in Christ, Casey

  3. Casey,

    I think that you are both right regarding homosexuality being “intrinsically disordered.” The *substance* of homosexuality is indeed such. However, it may have beneficial accidents attached to it. When we talk about “being gay”, Tushnet and those like her group both the substance and accidents together.

    Church teaching regards homosexuality, to the best of my knowledge, as an inclination to lust/commit sexual acts with members of the same sex. This is indeed the *substance* of homosexuality, and as Ms. Tushnet’s position does indeed reject this much, I don’t think it’s quite right to say she opposes the Magisterium.

  4. Hi Ty (#3),

    Thanks for the comment. You wrote,

    I think that you are both right regarding homosexuality being “intrinsically disordered.” The *substance* of homosexuality is indeed such. However, it may have beneficial accidents attached to it. When we talk about “being gay”, Tushnet and those like her group both the substance and accidents together.

    I confess I’m not entirely sure I understand your point. Could you please clarify what you mean when you say that the substance of homosexuality is intrinsically disordered, but that “it may have beneficial accidents attached to it” ? Are you saying those “beneficial accidents” are inherently good things, such as acts of virtue? If I understand you correctly, you are arguing that Ms. Tushnet makes a categorical error in viewing substance and accidents as the same thing?

    You also write,

    Church teaching regards homosexuality, to the best of my knowledge, as an inclination to lust/commit sexual acts with members of the same sex. This is indeed the *substance* of homosexuality, and as Ms. Tushnet’s position does indeed reject this much, I don’t think it’s quite right to say she opposes the Magisterium.

    I don’t know if Ms. Tushnet “opposes the magisterium.” Given the nature of her book and the arguments she makes, I’m inclined to believe she is seeking to accept and obey Catholic magisterial teaching as best as she is able. However, just because she is likely striving to do this, it doesn’t necessarily follow that she will always accurately understand or explain magisterial authority. As I argue in the above post, quoting Ms. Tushnet’s own words, she seems to believe that the Church may “reject” homosexuality’s designation as “intrinsically disordered.” Given that this definition of homosexuality is official Church doctrine, which appears in the Catechism and a CDF document, that seems categorically implausible. in Christ, Casey

  5. What would be an example of a “beneficial accident”?

    How could one tell whether or not this beneficial accident is the result of his or her same sex inclination, or simply a gift having no relevance to sexuality?

  6. Sorry, I should have been clearer that I was abusing metaphysical terminology.

    By the “substance” of homosexuality I mean pretty much what the Catechism means by homosexuality: An inclination towards homosexual acts, whether they be in thought or deed. This inclination is objectively disordered. No problems there.

    By the “accidents” of homosexuality I mean things that are *not* part of that inclination yet are so bound up in the life and experiences of gay people qua gay people that you might as well just call them part of “being gay.” These you could *theoretically* have with absolutely no homosexual tendencies whatsoever, much like how in the Eucharist we have the accidents of bread and wine minus actual bread and wine.

  7. Hey Ty (#6),

    Thanks for the clarification. It sounds then like your characterization of homosexuality is in agreement with what I argue in my paper, unless I’m missing something. cheers, Casey

  8. Casey,

    It mostly is, but I think you’re missing the subtle point that some of the commendable virtues/tendencies/insights of gay people, while technically separable from homosexuality itself, can nevertheless be found more easily and frequently in those who are actually gay. In which case:

    1. Homosexuality is still intrinsically disordered
    2. Whatever good virtues/tendencies/insights a gay person has do not, in the *strictest* sense of the word, “flow from” their homosexuality (from 1)
    3. But 1 and 2 do not contradict the supposition that the experience of “being gay”, which is *more* than just the homosexual inclination, could offer a unique vantage point from which to develop these virtues/tendencies/insights.

    For a related example, consider the blind man in Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral.” His blindness is not good in itself; it prevents him from, well, you know, seeing. Yet his profound understanding and wisdom, while they could in principle have been developed by someone with vision, seem *in him* especially to derive from life without eyesight. Moreover, they seem so strongly marked by his experience of being blind that it is difficult to say how a person with eyesight could acquire them in such depth.

    I know that blindness is a physical evil, and that homosexuality is a moral evil (or a tendency towards it), but I don’t think it breaks the comparison.

  9. Hi Ty (#8),

    It mostly is, but I think you’re missing the subtle point that some of the commendable virtues/tendencies/insights of gay people, while technically separable from homosexuality itself, can nevertheless be found more easily and frequently in those who are actually gay.

    Did you have some example to mind? I would think it might be difficult to determine in any authoritative sense if your thesis is accurate.

    1. Homosexuality is still intrinsically disordered
    2. Whatever good virtues/tendencies/insights a gay person has do not, in the *strictest* sense of the word, “flow from” their homosexuality (from 1)
    3. But 1 and 2 do not contradict the supposition that the experience of “being gay”, which is *more* than just the homosexual inclination, could offer a unique vantage point from which to develop these virtues/tendencies/insights.

    I think I can agree with your #3 argument, because struggling with any particular sin can provide a unique vantage point from which to develop certain virtues/tendencies/insights. However, I think that “unique vantage point” and “more easily and frequently” are a bit different, and I would want to see the latter proved. in Christ, Casey

  10. Casey:

    Great piece, about a book and a topic which really needs deep discussion. Kudos to you, and to Eve Tushnet.

    I’ve had some musings similar, I think, to those of other commenters. I sense that we are all which fumbling forward along lines similar to those of Ms. Tushnet as she tries to find things which can be affirmed in the lives of those with SSAD (Same-Sex Attraction Disorder) even while grudgingly granting that “objectively disordered” is a true label applied to erotic acts between them.

    How to put it? Hmm. Let’s start in the beginning….

    Had man not fallen in the garden, he would retain all the preternatural gifts. This would include a complete governance over the body and its instincts: Desires would not arise unbidden at inopportune times, or focused on inappropriate objects. “Brother Ass” would be a well-behaved, rather than an obstinate, companion.

    Under such circumstances, would there have ever been human beings born whose physical neural connections in the brain were identical to, or at least very similar to, those neural patterns we associate with gender-identity disorders and same-sex attraction disorders in the modern world?

    I think they would. I think that, in unfallen man, it would be safe for them to do so.

    In a race of unfallen men and women, there would be no danger that persons with this kind of “wiring” would proceed to engage in same-sex mutual masturbation with one another. That would be irrational; it only happens among persons whose spiritual personhood is so injured by concupiscence that their bodily instincts are able to rise up and overwhelm their rationality and willpower, requiring the assistance of divine grace merely in order to maintain a modicum of free will. (Caveat: I know the preceding sentence is open to certain objections; I’m trying for brevity here so let’s not go off on a tangent about its accuracy.)

    So, whatever might be the benefits of a cerebral “wiring” which we observe in the same-sex-attracted, we don’t want the disordered sexual acts which tend to follow from it among fallen humans. But among the unfallen, that concern would not exist; therefore, the benefits could be safely experienced.

    What benefits?

    Well, here I confess that the quickest way to make my point is to appear to embrace some awful clichés and stereotypes. But I want the point to get made. So I’ll risk looking prejudiced for a moment, and then qualify what I’m saying after-the-fact, relying on the reader to be charitable and presume my innocence. Okay? Okay.

    What benefits?

    Well, who wouldn’t want, in an ideal civilization, to have the best male hairdressers the human race can produce?

    (Pausing for a moment, until I stop being pelted with overripe vegetables.)

    Yes, yes, I know, suppress your groans. (Ducking a final tomato.) Thank you. Yes, I know.

    Yes, that’s a stereotype, although it’s disconcerting for those of us who passionately point out all the myriad exceptions to those stereotypes (women don’t all think alike! men aren’t all the same just because they’re men! likewise men with SSAD aren’t all hairdressers! …and those that are aren’t all supremely skilled at it!) how commonly-occurring the stereotypical behaviors can sometimes be. (If I’m in D.C. and I’m looking for a good cut and am willing to spend the cash, I know the odds I get a great cut that still looks good six weeks from now are pretty good, but so are the odds that the mannerisms of the guy delivering it are pretty flamey.)

    Moving away from the eye-rolling stereotypes, we can all observe that there are excellences and mannerisms which seem more prevalent among those with SSAD than elsewhere. Not all same-sex-attracted men lisp or mince; and of course those that do are often playing up the stereotype intentionally for comic purposes. And yet, the very fact that it happens, the very fact that there are statistically-significant observable differences of neural-wiring in those that identify as “gay” is suggestive. Ubiquitous stereotypes don’t arise out of nothing. There is, at the physiological or neurochemical or hormonal/developmental level, some kind of difference.

    What then? Well, what if it’s easier for a person with that kind of wiring to see and solve certain kinds of problems, or to be creative in certain ways, or to instinctively sense the difference between excellence and mere competence in certain fields?

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this were the case. But it’s hard for a persecuted minority to show forth its best traits. (I am not saying persons with SSAD are a persecuted minority in the centers of cultural and economic power in the U.S. today. They obviously aren’t. But they have been, in prior eras; consequently we can’t possibly have yet developed a full cultural flowering of the kind of excellences that can coincide with the wiring that produces SSAD.)

    So here is my proposal:

    The Church correctly labels the attempt to fulfill erotic longings with a person of the same sex as “intrinsically disordered.” Erotic longings are instincts which God placed in (some, not all) human hearts in order that a multigenerational dynastic plenitude might be achieved. It’s not just about having babies; it’s about those babies growing up to have children who will visit the grandparents at Christmas and sit on grandma’s lap and be offered candy by granddad, without having to worry that grandma and grandad now live in separate houses with some other unrelated persons named Mr. Tom and Ms. Elly.)

    And yet, there is room for the Church to acknowledge that, since grace perfects but does not replace nature, the virtue of chastity as lived by those with Same Sex Attraction Disorder will not destroy in their personal makeup those excellences which occur more frequently among persons with that disorder. Instead, by freeing them of their attachments (even addictions) to disordered pleasure-seeking, grace amplifies in them those excellences and allows them to bring out and express their gifts for the benefit of the whole human family.

    We thus DO NOT WANT to have a human civilization that lacks the input of these persons. We need them, for without them we cannot experience the full richness of God’s Human Family As Designed. Without these persons, the human family would be much poorer, for those gifts would occur less frequently, or less intensely, in persons with the more typical kind of neurochemical, hormonal, physiological, whatever-ical makeup.

    That’s what I propose.

    And, yes, I think the results would be something much better than merely having great hairdressers. But can I know how much richer the human race would be, and in what ways? No. How could I? Both the inclination of those with SSAD to give in to, and identify themselves with, their disordered attractions AND the inclination of all others to persecute them and drive them into hiding over the last ten thousand years has prevented me from knowing what it would be like. That’s yet another in the endless list of “could have beens” that the sins of the human race have prevented us from experiencing.

    I think I’ve now said most of what I wished to say.

    One other caveats, however:

    I have referred here to things like neural wiring or biochemical or physiological makeup to describe what makes persons with SSAD different from persons with heterosexual inclination. Allow me to point out that I agree with Dr. Peter Kreeft’s lecture “Sex in Heaven?” where he points out that even though the saints in Heaven do not marry nor are they given in marriage; nevertheless, they remain male and female. I go further — though not, I think, further than Dr. Kreeft would go if asked — and say that we Christians are not gnostics: Our bodies are not separate from our souls as if our souls inhabited a body that needn’t be our own. I think that the kind of “wiring” I am describing on the purely-physical plane may very well have a corresponding feature in the nature of a soul, such that the one fits in the other as a hand in a glove, or such that they mirror one another in some fashion beyond my conception. So, just as the heterosexual man who “struggles” (apologies to Ms. Tushnet) with adulterous desires is not only still a male soul in Heaven but is a male soul who, now that Christ has conquered in him his disordered desire, shines with the excellences of which his disordered desire was once an excess or misappropriation or perversion, so too does the man with SSAD who struggles to live chastely become (by God’s grace) a glorified saint whose very soul (more, even, than his body) shines with the excellences of which his disordered desire was the excess, the misappropriation, or the perversion.

    So do not mistake me when I focus on the “neural-wiring” of which our scientists have discovered some, if ambiguous, evidences. I think the human person is more than the body (I am not a materialist); and I think the human body and the human soul are both the person (I am not a gnostic). But it was easier, in the first part of my post, to speak in physical terms without constantly having to parallel every point with some spiritual counterpart, about which I can only speculate.

    Comments?

  11. Hi R.C. (#10),

    Thanks for the comment. I apologize in advance for the brevity of my response in comparison to your extended reflections. You wrote,

    Under such circumstances, would there have ever been human beings born whose physical neural connections in the brain were identical to, or at least very similar to, those neural patterns we associate with gender-identity disorders and same-sex attraction disorders in the modern world?
    I think they would. I think that, in unfallen man, it would be safe for them to do so.

    I confess my general ignorance regarding neural patterns and their relationship to gender or sexuality. If I am understanding your argument, then yes, I think it may be in the realm of possibility that individuals could have such neural patterns and not suffer from original sin. However, your thesis regarding original sin and the presence of neural patterns tied to homosexuality is based on a hypothetical scenario that seems impossible to prove. Unique neural patterns tied to people with homosexual inclinations could just as easily be explained by the effect of original sin. I’m not saying this is necessarily the case either, but rather to offer a different explanation that is just as plausible, and just as difficult to prove in any meaningful way.

    What benefits? Well, who wouldn’t want, in an ideal civilization, to have the best male hairdressers the human race can produce?

    I have a few concerns with your reasoning here. For starters, it seems difficult, if not impossible, to prove that any particular gift a homosexual person has, or a group of homosexual persons have, is in any principled way inseparably tied to their sexuality. Maybe, statistically, homosexual men make better hair stylists than heterosexual men, homosexual women, or heterosexual women (although how one even proves that seems difficult to measure given the inherent subjectivity of hair styling). Even if statistically this is true, what exactly does that prove? I’m not sure it categorically proves anything. There may be biological factors that explain those statistics, there may be socio-cultural factors that explain them. I’m not terribly interested in trying to conjecture as to why, since such theorizing would lack the logical or scientific evidence to make a cogent conclusion.

    Also, it’s worth noting that there are many heterosexual persons that have certain traits or mannerisms that our culture often attributes to homosexuality. For example, many heterosexual men have certain effeminate tendencies that our contemporary culture views as more “gay” – a lisp, certain mannerisms of communicating, a certain appreciation for style or decor, etc. Such individuals, I suppose, might even have a propensity for excellence in hair styling. Yet many such men may have no homosexual inclinations – I’ve known men with such tendencies that have large families! I propose that this reality demonstrates how complex our minds and bodies are, and how difficult the task would be to in any meaningful way determine what excellences might be more naturally found in homosexual persons.

    Moving away from the eye-rolling stereotypes, we can all observe that there are excellences and mannerisms which seem more prevalent among those with SSAD than elsewhere. Not all same-sex-attracted men lisp or mince; and of course those that do are often playing up the stereotype intentionally for comic purposes. And yet, the very fact that it happens, the very fact that there are statistically-significant observable differences of neural-wiring in those that identify as “gay” is suggestive. Ubiquitous stereotypes don’t arise out of nothing. There is, at the physiological or neurochemical or hormonal/developmental level, some kind of difference.

    I am not denying the potential for physiological, neurochemical, or hormonal difference between heterosexual and homosexual persons. I’m not sure that those differences can logically lead to proving that certain excellences are more common in homosexual persons. So far the only example you’ve provided is hair styling. Did you have something else in mind?

    We thus DO NOT WANT to have a human civilization that lacks the input of these persons. We need them, for without them we cannot experience the full richness of God’s Human Family As Designed.

    I agree wholeheartedly with this. Regardless of our sins or disordered desires, Jesus Christ has a unique and beautiful place for us at the wedding banquet of the Lamb, where we might become fully ourselves, in Him. blessings, Casey

  12. Casey:

    Thanks for your well-thought reply!

    I find I’m unable to answer you with much precision, because of the vast amount which is unknown about homosexual urges and how they integrate into gender identity overall and personality overall.

    It is entirely possible, of course, that the neural connections which create same-sex attraction have no other impact on the person than same-sex attraction. If so, then that particular connection, when found, could plausibly be corrected without affecting anything else about the person, using nanotechnology or some other as-yet-to-be-developed therapeutic technology.

    But I find that I doubt it. My gut instinct, when it comes to the brain, is that one can’t really modify one bit without having repercussions in other bits. And I suspect that individual cases vary: In some persons the modifications necessary to correct same-sex attraction disorder, or the much-broader-but-not-necessarily-overlapping category of gender identity disorder, would result in changes in one set of non-sexuality related behaviors or aptitudes; and in other persons, it would result in changes to a different set of behaviors or aptitudes.

    I would prefer not to try to make a list of which non-sexual-orientation-related traits might be cerebrally entangled with same-sex attraction disorder. I offered the male hairdresser cliché as a joke, and I thought it was a safe one precisely because it is such a cliché that I thought it likely to occur to most readers, whether I said it or not. Might as well play it for the groan it would provoke, and be done with it. But to try, in a serious mode, to produce an actual list of attributes seems distasteful and unwise to me. And maybe, contra my gut instinct on the matter, there are none.

    But suppose, for a moment, that my “gut” is correct about this. Suppose for a moment that same-sex erotic attraction is not a thing which can be corrected neatly without altering other things, even after medical technology advances another hundred years from where it is today. What then?

    Well, the apologists for the “homosexual desires are not disordered” point-of-view will naturally use this as ammunition. They will say that such desires are part of one’s personality; that to call them disordered is therefore to call the whole person a disorder; that a person in whom these desires are medically reversed is no longer the same person but a lobotomized victim; that the desire of a prospective patient to have this disorder corrected is a sign that the patient is not in his right mind; that such procedures should be outlawed.

    There will, in short, be a worse clutter and haze around the issue than there already is. The clouds of squid-like ink obscuring the issue will get darker the closer a genuine, functioning therapy gets to reality.

    But we want clarity.

    The Church teaches that a desire to achieve sexual fulfillment in such a way is a disordered desire. I was asking, “Does it follow that any personality feature which we are unable, even at a higher level of technology, to disentangle from homosexual desires is, therefore, also disordered?”

    I think that it doesn’t follow. I think these other personality features (presuming they exist) are probably good and thus not to be thrown away dismissively.

    Let me indulge in some really speculative speculation: I can imagine a future, a century hence, in which the Catholic Church makes it a matter of disciplinary obedience — or possibly moral dogma? — that a person who wrestles with same-sex attraction, whose same-sex attraction could be cured by some 22nd-century medical procedure, with the side-effect of altering other aspects of his personality, must not have the procedure. For of course “the procedure would destroy a positive moral good, which could have been kept intact; and the same-sex attraction has no negative effect provided the person lives chastely and has a healthy attitude towards his temptations.”

    And when such a teaching is communicated to the layperson, the touchy-feely part of how it is presented will include such phraseology as, “You are good, the way God made you is good! Be chaste, sin not; but especially do not consider who you are to be so much rubbish, that you are willing to destroy a part of your self in order to escape from a particularly awkward form of temptation, which can be defeated in other, albeit harder, ways.”

    All very speculative. It’s pretty crystal-ballsy of me, to posit such scenarios.

    Yet, if there are good personality traits or abilities which are inextricably intertwined with the disordered desires in this way, then if only she knew what those traits and abilities were, the Church could affirm the value of those good personality traits today, without in any way contradicting the unalterable teaching that same-sex erotic desires simpliciter are disordered and not to be acted upon.

    Is that, perhaps, the kind of affirmation Eve Tushnet hopes for, from the Church?

  13. Hi R.C. (#12),

    Thanks for the comments.

    It is entirely possible, of course, that the neural connections which create same-sex attraction have no other impact on the person than same-sex attraction. If so, then that particular connection, when found, could plausibly be corrected without affecting anything else about the person, using nanotechnology or some other as-yet-to-be-developed therapeutic technology.

    I’m certainly not proposing that this is the case, or that we should look forward to scientific developments that will allow us to “fix” homosexuals. Change “same-sex attraction” in your comment above to any other sinful tendency, and it may become clearer that to advocate such scientific developments would be very dangerous territory indeed. I have certain sins to which I am more inclined. I’d rather the Holy Spirit and the sacraments help me overcome them, rather than a medical procedure. As you seem to suggest, even our sinful tendencies are in some respect a twisting of some good – we need Christ to redeem and transform those tendencies and behaviors and repair what is broken, rather than use science to give the impression that we’ve been changed into someone else. Your scenario sounds like “plastic surgery” for the soul.

    But suppose, for a moment, that my “gut” is correct about this. Suppose for a moment that same-sex erotic attraction is not a thing which can be corrected neatly without altering other things, even after medical technology advances another hundred years from where it is today. What then?

    I’m not terribly interested in supposing this. I do not mean this to rudely or uncharitably “slap down” your conjecturing; more that I’m not sure it is a fruitful or helpful conversation to have.

    Well, the apologists for the “homosexual desires are not disordered” point-of-view will naturally use this as ammunition. They will say that such desires are part of one’s personality; that to call them disordered is therefore to call the whole person a disorder; that a person in whom these desires are medically reversed is no longer the same person but a lobotomized victim; that the desire of a prospective patient to have this disorder corrected is a sign that the patient is not in his right mind; that such procedures should be outlawed.

    Just to reiterate, I am willing to submit that there may be certain personality traits or virtues more easily found in homosexuals that are not in any sense disordered. My point is that I don’t think there is any meaningful way to categorically determine what those are or why they are the case. The fact that you are having trouble providing any concrete examples is I think suggestive that it is too speculative of a question to try to effectively answer.

    Let me indulge in some really speculative speculation

    This post is not really a great forum for “really speculative speculation.” I appreciate that you’re thinking hard about this subject, but as you yourself acknowledge, this is all “very speculative” and “pretty crystal-ballsy.”

    Is that, perhaps, the kind of affirmation Eve Tushnet hopes for, from the Church?

    I don’t want to speculate as to what Ms. Tushnet hopes for regarding certain “homosexual” traits being acknowledged by the Church. I can only assess what she writes in her book. I’m sure I’m not the only one offering these concerns regarding her reasoning, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she provides clarity at some future time on the subject. in Christ, casey

  14. To try to bring some more clarity into the issue, I would like to make it known that the past several years, the video apostolate of my order has been filming and posting online the annual national Courage Conference, which is the semi-official Catholic apostolate to those with Same-Sex Attraction (we also have plenty of other conferences as well, mostly Mariology, but some others as well):
    http://airmaria.com/category/air-maria-shows/conferences/courage-chicago-2011/
    http://airmaria.com/category/air-maria-shows/conferences/courage-2012/
    http://airmaria.com/category/air-maria-shows/conferences/courage-chicago-2013/
    http://airmaria.com/category/air-maria-shows/conferences/courage-philly-2014/

    Finally, from my understanding, some of the traits that RC is alluding to may be better described as predisposing someone to the effects of certain environmental factors, not as being the root cause.

  15. The below opinion that appeared in the Washington Post recently is an excellent example of how the principles of sola scriptura and perspicuity are unable to effectively resolve theological disagreements, and allows individuals to revise their interpretations of Scripture in ways that stray from how the Church traditionally and authoritatively understood homosexuality:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/11/04/im-an-evangelical-minister-i-now-support-the-lgbt-community-and-the-church-should-too/

    In particular, note his below statements:

    In recent years, my moral position has shifted. It has dawned on me with shocking force that homosexuality is not primarily an issue of Christian sexual ethics. It’s primarily an issue of human suffering. With that realization, I have now made the radical decision to stand in solidarity with the LGBT community.

    and

    I now believe that the traditional interpretation of the most cited passages is questionable and that all that parsing of Greek verbs has distracted attention from the primary moral obligation taught by Jesus — to love our neighbors as ourselves, especially our most vulnerable neighbors. I also now believe that while any progress toward more humane treatment of LGBT people is good progress, we need to reconsider the entire body of biblical interpretation and tradition related to this issue.

    It’s also worth noting he seems to conflate the concepts of “love” and “acceptance,” in that he believes that unless we endorse homosexual behavior, we are not loving homosexual persons.

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