Thoughts on Eve’s She Thinks I Still Care series

Posted by Sappho on September 6th, 2006 filed in Sexuality

But first, on an essay on homosexuality by Nathan, who, after several leaps back and forth, is now determined to adhere to Catholic teaching on homosexuality. Nathan writes, of his attraction to other men:

I’ve come to believe that what many gay men are looking for is the male experience we’ve never had: the experience of physical and emotional strength, and the experience of confidence. What we really want is to know, befriend, and love men who have these traits, but what we also want is to be men who have these traits. That’s why gay culture all but worships this particular image of masculinity: it is not only an image of what we want to love, but it is also an image of what we want ourselves to be.

and the weird thing is, this actually describes my heterosexual attraction. I’m attracted to men I want to be. It may not seem that way if you look at my current situation from the outside, since I’m married to a guy who’s bipolar, and since the story of woman as rescuer and reformer of man is so built into our culture. But, actually, with Joel, too, I was attracted to the things in him that I wanted to be, not to what I wanted to make out of him.

But on to Eve, whose posts can be found here and here. I forget which of the several people who favorably linked her expressed appreciation for her sense of complexity, but it’s one of the things I appreciate, too. Anyway, scattered comments.

Debs quote part:

Dude, if I don’t, who will? Eugene Debs believed a lot of very dumb things, but I have never been able to shake his old catechetical formula: “While there is a lower class, I am in it. While there is a criminal element, I am of it. While there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” I’ve paid out a lot of hours listening to guys in US Army issue glasses talking about watching their friends die from AIDS. I can’t turn away from that. Because of where my experiences have led me, I can’t walk away from the situations/identity/whatever that shaped some of the bravest people I’ve ever met. And as long as those people are still getting messed with, growing up hating themselves, or any other kind of suffering, because of a sexual identity we share, well. “I am not free.”

I think I said before that I really identify with this part. I’m married, OK, have been for eighteen years, so I could settle to be placed wholly and safely on the heterosexual side. But something feels wrong about that, for a lot of the same reasons Eve talks about here.

It was actually reassuring to me to think that while the guilt of sin would be expunged through baptism, the tendency toward sin–and thus the past, the person I’d been until Easter 1998–wouldn’t be removed.

I can’t say I’ve ever thought that way, but it does remind me of something. A couple of somethings, actually, both fictional. One is the point in The Wrinkle in Time where Meg is given her faults, which she’ll find very useful where she’s headed (and she does – her “fault” of stubbornness is just what she needs once she’s there). The other is the scene in The Great Divorce, where the guy has to throw the lizard off his shoulder to enter heaven, but once he’s willing to give it up, he gets it back as a horse. Both these stuck with me, for their promise that something that might seem a fault, or that might even be a fault if clung to in some way, would still have in it a core that’s valuable. And that perhaps, that core one might get to keep.

Somebody has to talk about the joys of life as ye olde same-sexe-attracted Catholicke, and the various ways of handling troubles,

And if someone doesn’t, all anyone gets to hear, in certain circles, is the doomed, doomed, doomed, side, where it winds up sounding as if you’re bound to wind up promiscuously exploitive.

I wanted to have a bit in this post listing and describing the ways in which I’d “acted on my lesbian desires” by, e.g., writing fiction; going to Confession and Communion; seeking greater humility in my relationships with others, and, especially, trying to be more servant-like in my relationships with my friends; investigating new philosophical paths, giving people the benefit of the doubt, trying to view others the way I viewed the women I loved.

Sublimation is both really, really hard, and sometimes really, really necessary. So that on the one hand I adamantly believe that sometimes we may need to sublimate our sexual desires – for a few of us, even, you know, all of them, because I think living a sexually abstinent life is actually a possible thing, and not just for people who are asexual. And, on the other hand, I equally adamantly believe that it’s not a sacrifice I should actually urge another person to make unless I’m really, really, really sure I need to. To me, it’s also reassuring to feel that there are ways (fiction, finding what inspired me in the other person, whatever) that I can still act on those desires that I oughtn’t (given my marriage vows) to act out physically. So, I can see the sublimation angle. At the same time, I don’t want to be too glib and positive about it, because, you know, I am married, and sublimating some when you’re married has got to be basically different from sublimating all the time when you’re not.

(And yeah, I know I totally haven’t addressed why I’m Catholic and not some other thing that would be all “gay-affirming” or whatever. But that isn’t what I wanted to do in these posts; I’m not wildly good at it [it ends up just being, “Nothing except Catholicism made any sense, and the Church said I had to stop gettin’ girls, so, you know, that’s the end of that party”]; and I am currently a lot more interested in how to be Catholic, anyway. …So, with that unsatisfying parenthesis, I will end this enormous post.)

While I came from a faith that was moving in a gay-affirming direction, and wound up in a faith that was also moving in a gay-affirming direction, and, I realize, didn’t really ever face this same choice. Particularly since many of the Christians presenting not-so-gay-affirming Christianity to me in college wound up being unpersuasive to me in lots of other ways.

And yet in a weird way I can see the draw. There are a few things that are worth giving up sex for, if that’s the choice you have to make. I know what those things are, for me. So that part I can understand. There’s a lot that does make sense to me in Catholicism, even if not to the point where I expect to be swimming the Tiber myself. I can even in some sense see an appeal in Catholic views on sex – which in another way make no sense to me. What makes no sense: the adamant insistence on tying sex so thoroughly to reproduction (I mean, it is tied, I believe that, we haven’t and can’t disentangle the two, and it doesn’t do to act as if sex has nothing at all to do with babies any more – but jiggling the odds to the degree that you can, well, go for it). What sort of makes sense all the same: sex is powerful, sex is important, sex is profound, sex matters! I suppose I’m not really a neutralist/naturalist (unworksafe link) about sex. Also, in practice, Catholics seem really messed up about sex, but so do I, and so does everyone else, of whatever level of faith or lack of it. Nobody’s views totally make sense to me, and everyone’s life has mistakes and failures and contradictions.

The bottom line I wind up with, though maybe it’s a perverse one, if that there’s a part of me that wants to affirm anyone like Eve who acts on the belief that she must give up being sexually active with her own gender, because I myself have things I may need to give up that others may not understand. And at the same time, there’s a part of me that feels equally bound to defend people like *Christopher, whose reflections on marriage coming out of his relationship with C. sometimes make more sense to me, and resonate more with how I experience my own marriage to Joel, than just about anything. I don’t mean I believe they’re both right – truth isn’t that subjective. More that each person’s life in one way reminds me of a choice I’ve once thought (rightly or wrongly) that I needed to make.

I suppose the point where I draw the line isn’t with the choice not to act on your own same-sex desires; it would be with the choice to make them out to be pure sin and lust. That’s not Eve (she sees her desires as fallen, but still with something in them that points to something good); it is what I get from some other people talking about homosexuality. Take one big dose of horror stories about gay bathhouses, throw in a generous helping of overlooking or minimizing of heterosexual failings, and I stop even wanting to listen to you.

3 Responses to “Thoughts on Eve’s She Thinks I Still Care series”

  1. Nate Nelson Says:

    This has given me a lot of food for thought. I think I shall blog about it when my blog is off of hiatus.

  2. figleaf Says:

    “What sort of makes sense all the same: sex is powerful, sex is important, sex is profound, sex matters! I suppose I’m not really a neutralist/naturalist (unworksafe link) about sex.”

    In other religions I think observers of kosher, halal, or (I think) ayurvedic dietary restrictions might make the same arguments about food, i.e. “How can you just go around unconsciously eating whatever you like. How can you claim to be genuinely connected to faith if you can’t even discipline yourself to choose what foods to eat and which to give up?”

    Yet followers of other faiths can be as passionate, as observant, and as… well… *faithful* to their religions despite their amorality (in the literal sense of “moral neutrality”) about food.

    More to the point, one can be utterly amoral from a religious standpoint about diet while still placing great value on food in a social/family/personal context — food can still powerful, be important, be profound, and matter.

    The “naturalist/neutralist” position I referred to is simply amoral — morally neutral — about sex. That position has, nor needs to have, any bearing on ones ability to be devout, any more than your “failure” to keep kosher has any bearing on yours or Eve’s or, say, Hugo’s devotion.

    In my family’s Scandinavian/Anglo-Saxon Protestant/Congregationalist and American-Unitarian tradition neither Martin Luther nor the English and American Puritans believed that sex in marriage should be reserved strictly for recreation yet they distinguished themselves from, say, Catholics out of a belief that one could not be sufficiently devout in Catholicism. (I’m not claiming they *were* more devout, only that they believed they could be and they acted out of that belief.)

    Coming from that religious perspective, the debate over homosexuality or celibacy feels as distracting from true faith is as frustrating and heartbreaking as would be a similar debate about whether one can have genuine faith if one eats the hindquarters of a cloven-hooved, cud-chewing animal (which, to be faithful to the letter of the Bible, no Protestant, let alone Jew or, I believe, Moslem should touch since it’s unclean.)

    At any rate, while I have a naturalist/neutralist stance towards sex I absolutely believe sex is powerful, sex is powerful, sex is important, sex is profound, sex matters socially, familially, and personally. But not religiously.

    And with that stance every moment Nathan or Eve spends tormenting themselves about which parts they want to rub against is would be a moment spent alienating rather than reinforcing their faith. This seems particularly tragic because in every respect (not every *other* respect) they seem so clearly to be of enormous faith.

  3. Joe Perez Says:

    Hi Lynn –

    I’m back from hiatus and thought I’d drop in to your blog. Thanks for keeping up the good work. Linked to this post today with comment. All the best,