Carissa Mulder recently published an excellent essay here at Public Discourse entitled “The Single Life: Where Do We Go from Here?” As Mulder expressed so well, human persons truly are not meant to be alone. We are designed for community. After having a marvelous Lent and subsequently disastrous Easter Sunday totally by myself, I can strongly relate to the author when she encourages married friends to include single people in their holiday celebrations.
My position, however, is slightly different from Mulder’s, because I am a faithful Catholic man who experiences same-sex attraction (SSA). I will never again marry.
Yet, like Mulder, I long for community. I have struggled with loneliness and isolation—experiences that every person, whether single or married, has probably suffered through. Loving community is the solution to this struggle. But how does that happen? How do we go about building such a community, particularly one that will embrace those of us who experience same-sex attraction?
You Already Have SSA Friends and Family
I am acutely aware in writing this that I am but one voice of many. I do not presume to speak on behalf of all within the LGBT or SSA communities. I simply speak for myself. I am a man who, for whatever reason, tends to be drawn to and have a desire for closer attachments to other men than some who are male and heterosexual may be comfortable with or used to.
My purpose here is to appeal particularly to heterosexual men who might be willing to take up a challenge they may never have imagined before: authentically befriending someone from my background. Truth be told, you probably already are friends with some of us—you just do not realize it. They may not have told you, or you may not have guessed. But they are there, or somewhere nearby. Today, I am asking you to listen to an SSA man who may yearn for your presence in his life more than you know.
Many people have strong opinions on what causes same-sex attraction, and on the legal and moral solutions to its existence. But far fewer of these people seem to have the ability or the desire to reach out to those of us with SSA in friendship or to help integrate us into local communities. We from the SSA world need you.
This Easter, for example, I attended the Easter Vigil Mass at my parish, which means so much to me each year. I came home elated—and then crashed, both physically and emotionally. After a very arduous and fruitful Lent, spent striving to keep my Lenten intentions and commitments, I relived my own experience at the Vigil eight years ago, when I returned to the Church after thirty-five years away and was finally confirmed at age fifty. That night, I suppose I expected to be walking on both air and water. Stepping inside my empty apartment and realizing that I could either order take-out or not eat at all was too much for me. I felt forsaken by God, family, and friends, even though I knew that no one intentionally abandoned me. Especially not God! Still, the pain was there and acutely real.
Those who are blessed enough to be married and have families of their own can sometimes forget that those of us called to be celibate and permanently single still have a great need to connect with “family,” particularly on holidays and holy days. This applies to single people from many backgrounds: the widowed, priests, and, of course, those with SSA.
In assisting your friends with same-sex attractions, in particular, the concept of “disinterested friendship” is an important key. The word “disinterested,” as opposed to “uninterested,” means impartial, fair-minded, and neutral. Of course, a disinterested friend does not have to be neutral in judging behavior, but in judging the human involved in such behavior; such a person is willing to be a friend and travelling companion to that person on his or her journey to wholeness. For many, becoming this kind of friend may entail stepping into corners of your own life that are not totally comfortable.
The Learning Curve
Although there are many exceptions, men from SSA backgrounds are probably less likely to have ever changed the oil in a car or excelled at traditionally masculine sports such as football. They may prefer to listen to classical music or jazz rather than rock or rap and enjoy a nice glass of wine rather than a bottle of beer. It’s not unlikely that we clean our homes better than you do, and we might even be gourmet cooks.
These differences are exactly that—differences. They are neither good nor bad. In fact, many straight men fit the description listed above. Still, there is a reason why television programs such as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy are popular. These gifts and attributes are not ones we from SSA backgrounds are required to give up. Gifts are good or bad according to how they are used. And maybe your friend who struggles with SSA can teach you a few things. No offense intended, but some of you could actually learn a few things from us in these areas! If you don’t believe me, ask your wives. I have a feeling they’ll be on my side.
But we can also learn from you. For example, I was pathetic at pretty much all sports as a child. I do not mean this as an indictment of him, but if my father had ever pulled me into the backyard to throw a baseball with me, or if he had ever taken me fishing, I would have been so thrilled that I probably would have announced it in “show and tell.” I also might have learned enough grace and skill to avoid being made the brunt of many cruel “sissy” jokes and being continually picked last on every team.
These things stick with a person. Although I graduated from high school forty years ago, the memories still sting slightly as I write this. Don’t bother getting the Bactine—I have learned to live with the person I am and am comfortable in my skin. And please do not try to figure us out, at least not totally. Far less important than why we feel such things is that simply we do. Just imagine the unbelievable agony of losing a woman you loved to another man, losing the chance to excel in a beloved sport because of a serious injury, or being utterly humiliated by your boss after you did your level best. You can forgive such hurts, and must, but the memory of such things remains. Our scars may look different, but scarring is universal.
We are more alike than you might have thought.
What We Need From You
First, let us be emotional and share our thoughts and feelings with you. No, I do not need to pour my heart out constantly—but I sometimes do. You, I hope, have a wife with whom you can do so. I do not. I am your perpetually single next-door neighbor—the one who is not ever going to be otherwise.
Second, realize that our tattered past does not compose our present, any more than your former promiscuity or other areas of struggle make up yours. Lust is lust. While I may be attracted to the strong arms or piercing eyes of another male, you may prefer the ample bosom or smooth skin of a female. But both can bring us into sin, and quickly. And in neither case is the attraction itself sinful; God made the human body and declared it to be “good.” Yet those attractions must be controlled. Regardless of our orientation or inclinations, we can help one another by praying or sharing some of those struggles with another man who understands the pain and guilt of giving in to lust.
Third, and most importantly: do not be so damnably fearful of us developing a “crush” on you. Sure, we might. If you sense this happening, deal with it. How, you ask? What would you do if a woman seemed to expect more from you than you could give her? You would, I hope, be very gentle with her, state your position, and be clear that you do not reject her as a person even though you reject her advances.
I would contend that, with another male who is committed to chastity, it is even easier, not harder, to deal with such a situation. First of all, we already know that the “crush” is a transient thing and cannot go anywhere. We are acutely aware of this, trust me. With a woman, you may have to totally cut off contact in order to protect your marriage or avoid possible temptation or scandal. Men are not a “threat” to you in those ways, so breaking off the friendship is seldom warranted. If we like you “too much,” it is a simply a sign that you are meeting a legitimate need for intimacy in our lives. Be flattered but firm. And do not push us away (unless we persist inappropriately, of course).
In a handful of weak moments in my own life, I have “tested the waters” and discovered that nothing was ever going to occur with someone. In these cases, the men involved gave me genuine understanding, and the friendship remained strong—perhaps even growing stronger as a result of the gentle compassion shown to me at that time. And no one lost. The built-in fear of rejection that most SSA males have toward other men, particularly heterosexual men, can be overwhelming and even crippling. Please do not reinforce it.
So like us—love us—and do not ignore us even if you have had to give us the painful truth that we need to ease off a little. But remain available. It will mean the world to us if you do.
To some of you, such an idea is so repugnant that you would much rather “leave it to the experts.” I am here to say that you are the expert. You are the example of manhood many of us have never known and mistakenly sexualized as a result. To push us away at such a time is to bring us back to the playground in fourth grade when we were called “fem” or “sissy,” or rejected from the team over and over. Some of you, in fact, were the very ones who did those kinds of things to us in the first place. So, let now be a great time for reparation. Lovingly set boundaries, but do not make us feel betrayed all over again.
What Can One Straight Person Do?
So how do you begin? Start by knocking off the “gay” or “faggot” jokes. Most of them are not funny anyway, and you may be telling them in front of someone who has a secret you never dreamed of and hurting that person immensely. You may be even preventing that person from ever telling you about his or her struggles.
Be shocked at nothing during this new adventure. I have occasionally told a friend or even posted on my Facebook page that I thought a certain man was very attractive. This has scandalized a few, and they have told me so. My answer to them is always the same: “When I chose celibacy, I did not become blind.” So try getting over the fact that I find attractive men attractive. I do. Appreciating the human form is not the sin here, whichever gender. The sin is in allowing it to lead you to lustful behavior. Let me be free enough with you that I can actually express even the less comfortable parts of myself.
Those with SSA who strive to be chaste face a daily struggle. We do not need you to “fix” us. We are working on that already, or we should be. But you are, by virtue of your manhood, part of the solution. Please, include us in your lives, and let us return the favor. After all, that is what genuine friendship entails.
Easter is over, though the season thankfully continues for a few more weeks. Still, I would be more than thrilled to be invited over for a piping hot ham dinner any day. I can definitely bring the brownies.