Monday, June 18, 2012

Nobody Loves Me, It's True – Not Like You Do

When Chris first met me, I was in the closet, but obviously a dyke. I had short eggplant coloured hair, came to school dressed in a toga, and interacted with men as though I were a pugilistic brain-in-a-vat. I was not very much like the normal girls – and that's what's attracted him to me. I thought that gender was totally socially constructed, that complete autonomous independence was the ideal state for a fully realized human being, and that woman could be saved by reason alone. These were significant obstacles that lay in his way on the path to courting me, but he saw them more or less the way that a knight sees a dragon. From the earliest days of our friendship, he saw the person that I had the capacity to become. He draws an analogy to Michelangelo seeing the statue of David inside of a piece of marble: the statue was already there, complete and perfect, but there was an awful lot of chiseling that needed to be done in order to bring it into sharp relief. He got out his tools, and he got to work, chipping away at the hard exterior that I had built around my heart, slowly removing whatever would give until I started to resemble a woman more than an armoured tank.
During the early days of our courtship he wrote me a message reading “Shine on you crazy diamond,” and he has continued to use that phrase, and the song that it refers to, to exemplify the way that he sees me. A crazy diamond. A strange, multi-faceted, unique, rare and therefore valuable individual. A mad and wonderful one of a kind.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Eros and Eschaton

Below is a post I wrote for Ethika Politika in response to their critique of my "Looking to Desire".

The editors have kindly invited me to engage with the criticisms of my work which they offered in their post “Is Homosexual Desire Basically Good?” The point of contention is whether or not Eve could have experienced disordered desire while in a state of innocence. It would seem to me that if we assume that a concupiscent or sinful desire can be experienced by innocent nature, then the original sin would not have been the taking and eating of the fruit, but rather the gaze which Eve turns towards it when she sees that it is “pleasing to the eye,” and so forth. According to such an account, she would commit the sin of covetousness the moment that she entertained a desire for the fruit, and the rest would be only a formality. Her nature would thus have fallen the moment that she perceived the fruit as desirable.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I've Travelled So Far But Somehow Feel the Same

When I first wrote Sexual Authenticity, I was hoping to be able to help fill what I saw as a hole in ministry to the homosexual person. Courage was there for people who were committed to Church teaching but struggling to live it out, and for those who were seeking to recover from sex-addiction. NARTH existed for those whose homosexuality was a source of such deep suffering that they were willing to make substantial financial and temporal commitments in order to completely uproot it through therapeutic means. Dignity catered to those who wanted to reject the Church's moral teachings and embrace homosexuality outright. What this left out was a means of reaching out to those who might be interested in adopting, or at least considering, the Church's teaching on the morality of homosexual acts, but who also wanted to embrace and celebrate the non-lustful aspects of the “gay” identity. I felt this gap, but I hadn't articulated it clearly in my mind – when I pitched the book to OSV, I billed it as a book that would try to reconcile the two “sides” of the Culture War, a book that would look at the issue of homosexuality from both angles. I deliberately decided that I was going to split my research resources in half: half of what I read would be from the Catholic/Christian “side” and half would be from the LGBTQ “side.” My goal was to take the first step towards framing a discourse that would bridge the seemingly impassible chasm between rainbow-land and Rome.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Open to Scorn Just Like Me

The decision to see myself as queer is not something that happened overnight. There had been cracks opening up in the shell of my putative heterosexuality for some time, and I'd been increasingly frightened and conflicted about that. On the one hand, Leonard Cohen said, “There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in,” on the other, accepting my own queerness meant relinquishing a comfortable position within the Culture War, it meant stepping out into the unknown, and it meant being really honest with myself in a way that was both humbling and scary.

I remember reading a post by Joshua Gonnerman about “owning” our Christianity; the idea that at some point we have to stop trying merely to conform to a simplistic cultural construct, a card-board cut out of sanctity, a stereotype of the “good Christian.” The teachings of the Church have to become real, they have to imprint themselves on the personality in such a way that they are intertwined with it, married to it, so that Christ becomes me and I become Christ but without losing my own identity.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Stay A While to Share My Grief series is on hold for another day or two. I'm not doing all that well, so I'm going to ask readers for prayers. I need to grow a thicker skin. A much thicker skin. Seriously. I don't know what made me think that it was a good idea to put myself this far out in the open, on-line, where anyone can come along and tear off a piece of my flesh at will. Anyways, Robert Sungenis has written a response to my "Looking To Desire" post. I'm not going to link to Sungenis' post. Please let me put in a very strong caveat lector for my same-sex attracted readers: don't hunt it down on-line and read it. It probably won't be as bad for you as it was for me, because the slanders, detractions and rash judgements will not be peppered with your name, but we all know that he's never actually met me, and that he's really just saying what he believes to be true of all of us. I thought that I would be okay, that I could take it like a man, and not let it get under my skin. I was wrong. My husband warned me that I probably didn't want to know, but I didn't believe him...I've still got that Stoic hangover and it often causes me to feel that I can be much more emotionally bullet-proof than I actually can.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Am I What I Am?

A long time ago, my spiritual director told me that what I needed were friends. Female friends. Not just people who were married to my male friends, or people whom I invited to parties because they were friends of my husband, but real friends of my own. According to Father Vit the reason that women need female friends is so that they can complain to one another. Women, he said, need to complain, otherwise they keep everything inside and it comes out in other ways – they take it out on their families, their husbands. Men don't want to listen to this, and they're not any good at it, so women need to call each other up to bitch.

That was all fine and good in theory, and I made some half-hearted attempts to carry it out, but I was very good at making excuses. The women that I knew didn't pick up the phone. I didn't have anything to complain about. I had sisters to talk to. I didn't have time to get out of the house with all of those children to take care of, and I didn't have a driver's license, and I didn't know any people, and I'm totally socially inept. Those kind of excuses. My husband told me “If you really wanted to do this, you would get it done. The reason you have no friends is that you work on it for about ten minutes a month.” I really resented that, crossed my arms, pouted, and insisted that he didn't understand how hard this was for me, and how hard I was trying, and how it wasn't my fault.

Then, in the early part of this year, God decided to weigh in on the controversy. Due to an absolutely inconceivable set of blunders and miscommunications involving incompetence on a level that is normally impossible to people other than myself, my long-distance got cut off. The long-distance drought lasted for months, during which I whined to my husband about how lonely and isolated this was making me. He said, “You never tried to call those people when you had long-distance. Now you want to load six children into the car and drive ten minutes into town to use a payphone?” I girded my loins, grit my teeth, engaged my advanced emergency Stoic willpower, and decided to wait it out. I still had e-mail. I could still send people know, theoretically, if I wanted to. Then my phone line went down. Now I was stranded, without internet, without e-mail, without a driver's license, without a telephone, without, in short, any possible way of contacting the outside world.

Finally, after years of excuses, I hit my breaking point. I realized that I actually literally could not survive without significant contact with other human beings. Human beings outside of my family who would actually talk back – not just people who received my various missives into the darkness in the form of articles published in the Catholic press. When, after a couple of weeks, the phone finally came back on-line, I called people. I called one of my closest friends (admittedly, the wife of one of my male best-friends – but only because he went and married an old acquaintance of ours), and she said, “Did somebody die or something?” “No.” “Oh. I figured that something terrible must have happened, because you never call.”

Having made the leap into the unknown, I also followed up a second lead on human social interaction: I joined a blog community of other chaste same-sex attracted Christian intellectuals. I figured that I could complain with Mantis and Egypt about my kids, and my husband, and my various normal, straight-woman type problems, but I also needed people to talk to about this homosexuality thing. Mostly for research purposes, of course. Because I was different. I wasn't really gay. I was married with six kids, and hadn't deliberately entertained any lesbian fantasies in over thirteen years. So that meant I was straight. Right?

Within half an hour of being on-line, I realized that that was bullshit. It's hard to entirely describe the feeling that I had, reading what other people were posting, what they were thinking, how they were relating to their sexuality, to beauty, to their faith. There was no sense of horror at all, no sense of my worldview or self-concept crumbling, just an immense relief. I thought, “Here, at last, are people like me. I'm not completely alone in the world. I'm not just the really, really weird girl who doesn't think and feel and talk like other people. I'm not just strange and socially awkward and out of place. I'm queer.” That word fit so well. The lovely “q” sound, the euphonious Victorian twang, the fact that it was a pejorative that had been reclaimed in self-defence, that it described a state of sexual otherness which didn't necessarily connote any particular kind of sexual behaviour whatsoever. Queer. Other. Exile.

But an exile travelling towards the promised land – and no longer travelling alone.

(Part 6 of 12)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

This Loneliness Just Won't Leave Me Alone

I don't want to give the impression that the problem with my conversion narrative was entirely due to circumstances beyond my own control. The truth is that I succumbed so easily to the pressure to give a reasonable facsimile of the idealized ex-gay trope because I had managed to produce for myself the illusion of conforming to that trope. With a little psychological trompe l'oiel, I had made my homosexuality disappear. I had whisked it away by the simple expediency of stoically stamping out almost all traces of sexual desire in myself. I didn't experience SSA because I hardly experienced Eros at all.

The problem with Stoicism is that it works like magic...not like stage magic, but like the kind of magic where you sign away your soul on a dotted line. If you're any good at it, Stoicism pays massive dividends up front, but sooner or later the debt gets called in and it's bone crunching time.

I was very good at it.

For nearly ten years I stoically repressed my sexuality. Then, when I was pregnant with my sixth child, the collections officer came calling. I was trying as usual to be holy and heterosexual, but found that I was increasingly lonely, anxious and wound up instead.

Okay, lonely doesn't cover it. I wrote a novel in which the main character, Germanicus Kirkman, was a martyred, highly erotophobic Stoic trapped in the bottom of a malevolent supernatural Well which was outside of time, space, and existence. He was even lonelier than me, because he had no hope of any contact with people other than himself. Over the course of some hundred-thousand words, Germanicus became increasingly more and more insane, literally torturing himself within his own imagination as he tried to cling to virtue, to be perfect all on his own strength. He was ruthlessly rational, unable to be weak, trying to dominate every single one of his passions by the strength of his own will, unable to accept or forgive himself, unable to receive love.

I identified with him completely. For about six months, I could not stop writing this novel, every single night. It took over my life. I wrote it compulsively, and I could no more put it aside than you can escape from the logic of a dream. My subconscious had taken control of me, and it would not be silenced until it had spilled out every last drop of its complaint.

In some ways, living as Germanicus was wonderful. My pain threshold shot through the roof. All temptations save pride became laughable. I could look on my own sufferings with marvelous indifference. I could face insult and injury and be vexed with no man. I could be superhuman. Or inhuman. Depending on your point of view.

Only I couldn't get the novel to come to a proper resolution. I wanted Germanicus to triumph, to save himself, but every ending that I tried came out wooden or incoherent.

Finally, I showed the manuscript to my husband. He said, “You need to take this to a shrink, not an editor.” I was unbelievably angry with him about that, but slowly I began to realize that it was true. I wasn't writing about a character in a weird speculative horror situation. I was writing autobiography in archetypal guise.

(Part 5 of 12)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Doubled Up Inside

What I didn't count on when I wrote my book, was that it was going to lead me to direct engagement with a public discourse. I would be drawn into the cultural currents. I would be expected and pressured in countless subtle ways to dress up my discourse in the right linguistic uniform, to show which side of the culture wars I was on. No matter how much I disliked the ex-gay narrative, no matter how much I wanted to avoid being paraded like a pet peacock, an example of a successfully reformed lesbian, it was going to happen.

My father in law warned me. He said, with a wisdom that I couldn't recognize, “People are going to try to use your story for their political ends.” I was just so happy to be able to speak; it was part pride, I'll admit that. The pleasant vanity of hearing one's own voice on radio, of sitting in a television studio and talking about oneself. I was also terrified, paralyzed by stage fright. My husband wanted to discuss what I was going to say, how I was going to avoid sounding plastic or saccharine, but I just wanted to plug my book and get out alive.

When I went on Catholic radio for the first time the host, a well-meaning pious woman, cornered me. She said, “So you heard God speaking to you in your heart?” I fumbled. I stuttered. I said, “Yes. In a sense,” or something like that. When the interview was over, I hung up the phone and sat staring at the wall, wondering what had happened. My husband asked, “How did it go?” I said, “I told them that I heard God speaking to me in my heart. I gave a classic conversion testimonial. I didn't mean to.” He said, “Next time, we'll get you ready before you go on.”

My next radio interview was better, so I figured that I was okay when EWTN invited me down to appear on the Abundant Life. Then I got there, and I realized that I wasn't in Canada anymore. I was in Alabama. The women at the EWTN mass were all wearing pretty skirts, and many of them had their heads covered. Black people worked all of the service jobs, and they referred to me as “ma'am,” in this weird way, as if slavery had never really come to an end. People would ask me what I was there to do a show about, and I would say “homosexuality. I used to be a lesbian.” Then they would talk about the gay agenda, and Prop 8, and how the gays were taking over the schools. It was so strange, this presumption that since I had left my lesbian lover behind I would therefore look on homosexuality with fear and loathing. I smiled and nodded, because I didn't know what to say.

Eventually I got to the studio where I was greeted by Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, a reparative therapist from NARTH who was to be appearing alongside me on the show. He was the expert, the doctor. I was automatically, in some way, cast in the role of the patient, the one who had been successfully treated and reformed. Only I had never been treated. I had never been to any therapy. I had never been repaired. There was a sort of awkwardness in that which got under my skin.

Then, at some point during filming when the camera was off, Dr. Fitzgibbons turned to me and in a hushed tone of voice that suggested he was sharing an appalling secret with me said something about “gay bowel syndrome” and rectal cancer. I was stunned. I didn't know how to react to that. Was I supposed to be horrified? Disgusted? Shocked? In disbelief? I was none of those things. I just sat there, waiting for Rod Sirling to pop out and explain how I'd gotten into the Twilight Zone.

I got another jolt of cognitive dissonance a little later in the program, when the host turned to me and enthused “You're so honest!” I was suffering from culture-shock and intimidation in the presence of an expert, and I was giving a really wooden, highly expurgated account of myself. I was behaving so artificially that when my husband later tried to watch the show on YouTube he couldn't make it through more than five painful minutes. I didn't resemble myself at all, yet I was being praised for heroic authenticity.

I felt like a fraud. I'd written a book about how the Culture Wars mentality was wrong, and suddenly I was in the thick of that war, an artillery piece in the battle against the Gay Agenda. Moreover, I knew that the politicization of my sexuality was an obstacle to the work that I actually wanted to be doing. I was producing the kind of ex-gay narrative that appeals to good Catholic mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers who dearly want their loved one's to be able to acheive a full, vibrant, healthy, happy heterosexuality – the kind of ex-gay narrative that has failed the LGBTQ community so badly because it falls afoul of the real experience of many people with SSA.

I was fast becoming the very stereotype that I had so pointedly criticized in the opening chapter of my book and I didn't know where I was going to find the courage to go back to being myself.

(part 4 of 12)