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.
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.