“Fervently Catholic, proudly gay, happily celibate”

A New York Times feature Saturday morning profiles Eve Tushnet, styled A Gay Catholic Voice Against Same-Sex Marriage. Eve Tushnet is a very intriguing and forthright thinker/writer who had dropped off my radar though I had admired her in the past.

I find her intriguing today because, on a general topic that remains contentious (which is why it merits careful discussion, again and again, until sanity reigns) and shrill (it often seems that the world is divided into “it’s an abomination” and “you’re a closet queen homophobe” camps), I find myself agreeing with her almost 100%. Her position lifestyle convictions — shared at least in general terms by Orthodox, Catholics, and at least a few others — are neither antinomian nor “phobic” about anything.

Read the profile and read Tushnet’s website a bit. (Here is the link to subscribe to her blog, offered because it was deucedly hard for me to locate.)

Although one might fault her for writing and talking so much about her own sexuality (there’s too little privacy about private things in our exhibitionist age), I believe I understand her decision. In a world where opinion on homosexuality is as polarized as I described, a still-recent convert to a humbler, more historic Christian tradition may be excused for saying repeatedly that “the Gospel is good news for everybody” (as Fr. Thomoas Hopko put it) and “I’ve got credibility because I’m joyously living what I say.” So she’s not hiding her little light under a bushel.

I claim no exalted expertise or credibility on homosexuality. I have watched, read and thought a lot about it as one of the contentious “culture wars” issues of the day, and I’ve pushed back against the gay rights cause where I thought it was going beyond a demand for human dignity and impinging on the rights of others (in general, see my discussion of Chai Feldblum here). When I pushed back, I regretted the wounded and uncomprehending looks from some “out” acquaintances and friends, and accordingly triple-checked and recalibrated my Golden Rule Empathyometer. (I wasn’t off by much if at all. Whew!)

Here’s where I may disagree with Tushnet:

  • “Fervently Catholic” — “She could do better than that,” says this still-recent Orthodox convert from Protestantism. ‘Nuff said about that. 😉
  • “Proudly gay” — these aren’t her words, and perhaps she wouldn’t use them. I simply don’t know what they mean. Pride about anything is dangerous. Pride about unchosen homosexuality seems as silly as being “proudly straight.” And “gay” is also problematic: I thought “gay” connoted non-celibacy; I’ve even had televised debates where my adversary scornfully dismissed the possibility of celibacy with some catty crack like “what do you think ‘gay’ means!?” “Matter-of-fact about her homosexual orientation” seems apt. “Convinced that sexual orientation cannot be changed” is plausible as well, as the falls of several high profile evangelical “reparative therapy” fans attest. But “proud.” Nah.
  • “She does not see herself as disordered” — this passing characterization, in case you’re unaware, represents a gentle repudiation of the Roman Catholic position that homosexual inclination is “objectively disordered.” I’m inclined, in contrast to Tushnet, to agree with that characterization — while quickly adding that there’s something(s) “objectively disordered” about a lot of things in this world. For that reason, I have not taken “objectively disordered” as a put-down, or particularly applied it to persons as opposed to inclinations and practices.
  • “Sin ‘means you have a chance to come back and repent and be saved,’ she says” — While it is true that “sin” doesn’t mean “you’re bad,” neither does it mean you have a chance to come back and repent and be saved. Sin (Greek amartia) means missing the mark (from which miss you indeed can repent etc.).

Somehow, though, it seems inadequate simply to say I agree with the rest of Tushnet’s “positions” in the profile. Instead, I especially appreciate her courage in advocating and modeling celibacy and passionate friendships, including same sex friendships, as the profile alludes to Tushnet’s “theology of friendship, as articulated in books like St. Aelred’s ‘On Spiritual Friendship.’”

I know some decent people who think that anything like “passionate friendships” are just too dangerous (or some such thing) for people with homosexual inclinations, but were there no other problems with that view, there is the very real danger in of any self-imposed, or socially-imposed, isolation. My attitude (to put it in terms of one of my own besetting sins) basically is “The world’s a dangerous place. I can’t stop eating just because I have an inclination to gluttony. I must eat – and risk loss of control – or die. And by analogy ….” I’ll bet you can fill in the rest (which presumes a universal human need for deep friendship). We’re “persons” only in relationship, and an isolated “individual” isn’t much to brag about.

Tushnet is refreshingly realistic about temptation, too: “‘It turns out I happen to be very good at sublimating,’ she says, while acknowledging that that is a lot to ask of others.” Perhaps a lot to ask especially of people trying to become fully human persons in close relation to others.

But in the world, as in the monastery, when a Christian falls, he/she gets back up. And if you fall again, you get up again. Maybe you ask yourself at some point “Am I exposing myself to too much temptation? Should I flee like Joseph from Potiphar’s wife?,” but that’s not my call to make for anyone other than myself.

Eve Tushnet: I’m putting you on my blogroll. Keep up the good work.

6 thoughts on ““Fervently Catholic, proudly gay, happily celibate”

  1. Nice. Why must homosexuality be hidden within the church?? Why can’t it be an acknowledged fact? I have yet to encounter the happy medium within a church community where someone is “out” — and that’s okay — without the church celebrating homosexuality & proclaiming gay rights from the pulpit. In Orthodoxy, it’s hush hush. In the Episcopal church (my background), it’s the opposite.

    I’m intrigued. Now, I’m off to click all your links!

  2. What I would hope for Orthodoxy would be that nobody would fear rejection because of feelings, or sins in one’s past, or present lapses about which one is repentant. And on “present lapses,” short of outright advocacy of same-sex erotic relationships, I’m willing to leave the gauging of repentance to Priest confessors. I would hope that precisely because the gospel really is, and should presented as, good news for everybody.

    But if you’re living chastely, I’m uncertain about the point of being “out.” That was why I stuck in the paragraph defending Eve Tushnet for being vocally “out” about matters I think better GENERALLY left private. We need a few articulate role models.

    Having read some of Tushnet’s own writings (more interesting than my own links are the links off my links to her), I’m pretty sure she would say that her lesbian sexuality is just one of many facts about her, and is not “constitutive” of who she is – i.e., “lesbian” is not her identity. So why (generally) make an issue of it? I talk some about my struggles with food because they’re patent; other less visible besetting sins are between me and Father Gregory.

    It seems to me that the true middle ground would be that homosexual sin and temptation are treated no differently than other sins and temptations, so that people feel no need to talk about it at Coffee Hour but the hall wouldn’t clear if the subject came up and bisexual or exclusively homosexual desires were acknowledged.

  3. Most gay people would view the phrase “proudly gay” as interchangeable with “Matter-of-fact about her homosexual orientation”.

    Gay “pride” is a gesture of defiance against fear (fear of the consequences of being honest about one’s homosexual orientation) not shame. Which is why “pride” about unchosen homosexuality isn’t quite as silly as it first appears.

    “Gay” conversations (let alone “ex-gay” conversations) are difficult to follow because everyone uses the same words to mean very different things.

  4. You’re matter of fact about your need to go on a diet. You have sought public support from a doctor with clear goals for change, making your goals publicly visible. Additionally, you can find loads of books about how to manage one’s weight to the point of “identifying” with the South Beach Diet, the Atkins diet, the Weight Watchers program, etc.

    I think it would be easy to say that someone who struggles with gluttony should just fast. Any effort to seek other solutions would be “identifying” with their sin.

    Yes, people need to eat. Yes, people also need to have healthy relationships with other people. If something hinders one’s relationship with food, then it’s probably best to be honest about the realities and seek God-honoring solutions as to how to restore one’s relationship with food. If something hinders one’s relationships with other people, then I would think that the same axiom would apply.

    No one tends to view those entering a heterosexual marriage as “flaunting their sexuality.” But they do so publicly, acknowledging the struggle before them. Orthodoxy rightly describes marriage as a martyrdom, undertaken within the presence of a community.

    Yet the instant someone who happens to be gay declares their intention to remain celibate while developing friendships, everyone assumes that the individual is somehow “proud” of this fact of life. Do you know of any supports for celibate persons that exist outside of monastic communities? What about facing issues of communal living for non-monastic situations?

    I’m not trying to excuse gluttony or homosexuality or pride or any other of the passions. But it’s wrong to say that it is okay for someone who struggles with gluttony to have support in their community while saying that someone who is dealing with homosexuality cannot have support in their community.

    To be sure, one does not need to be honest about the sins that one struggles with, particularly provided that one is not acting on them (and this observation even holds true in the confessional). It does not matter the sin that you’re struggling with. A person who is gay who does not have any friendships with other persons of his or her same sex has no occasion for sin relative to their sexual orientation.

    Eve Tushnet offers this about the closet: “The closet also offers a lot of temptations to sin; I’d say for many people it just is a near occasion of sin. There’s the obvious temptation to lie. There’s the temptation to throw other people under the bus to make yourself look more hetero, or butcher or whatever. There’s the temptation to deny or speak uncharitably to openly gay friends (or, for that matter, enemies). There’s the temptation to cut yourself off from other people so they don’t get too close–to avoid friendship, and avoid help. Being in the closet makes it harder to act rightly.”

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