by Eve Tushnet
One of the things I’ve been saying a lot over the past year or so is that if you’re gay and Catholic (or in another Christian church with a relevantly-similar sexual ethic) it is good to reach a point where you are grateful to be gay. You will probably need to work to get there. Your education in the faith will not have encouraged you to think this way and will likely have discouraged you. And yet coming to a place of gratitude will almost certainly help you resist despair and trust in God’s tender love for you.
I just wrote an unnecessarily-long email to somebody who was asking me what this might look like. In order to answer her question I just listed some of my own reasons for gratitude. This is not a comprehensive list even of my own reasons, and it’s unlikely that every item will be relevant to every gay person seeking to practice our Faith. But I hope this list will help others reflect on what they’re grateful for in their experience of being gay. These are experiences in which we can see truth and beauty; they aren’t things God does to us in order to trap us or punish us or trick us into doing bad stuff.
Okay, so, an incomplete list of reasons to be grateful that I am a big ol’ lesbian, in the order that I thought of them:
# Women are beautiful! It’s always good to notice beauty and be grateful for it. I and some other gay Christians I know have found it really nourishes our faith, our trust in God, when we thank God for the beauty of other people when we notice it. He has given us the chance to see this.
# Similarly I’ll sometimes have that inexplicable chemistry where you just notice more good things about a person, where you’re attracted to her and she has a kind of special glow. This isn’t necessarily about physical beauty in an obvious way, although lol that doesn’t hurt, but even when I wouldn’t ordinarily consider a woman unusually pretty I’ve sometimes found myself sort of humming in her presence, like a struck tuning fork. And that makes me see her good qualities with an unusual intensity. I notice her in a way I don’t always notice others. And I think God wishes us to respond to one another with this awe and delight. I’m not sure I’d call this “sexual attraction,” I think sex is only one part of it or one possibility for how it’s expressed, but it is some kind of attraction and I definitely have it more with women than with men. Straight people can also have this chemistry with people of the same sex, and come up with unwieldy terms like “girl crush” or “bromance,” but I think it is more common for gay people for fairly obvious reasons.
# I do think both being gay and being celibate have led me to put more effort into my friendships, and I have really strong and sustaining friendships as a result. This is especially true of friendships with women, but also just friendships in general; since I know that friendship will likely be the kind of relationship with others that I experience most deeply, I’ve really tried to learn how to be a good friend, and friendships have been, I think, “sanctifying” for me in much the same way that people say marriage can be.
# I’ve really loved like 95% of the people I’ve met because of being publicly gay and Christian. You get to meet other gay Christians, and they are great!
# Nowadays being gay in the Church is a marginalizing experience. I don’t think it needs to be this way, but since it is this way now, I can be grateful for the chance to see the Church from the margins, where Jesus is always present in a special way. And I think to some extent it has helped me have solidarity and compassion for others who really struggle or are mistreated in the Church. Respectability is often bad for the soul.
# Similarly, if people know you’re gay and therefore in their minds “weird,” they often share their own stories of feeling out of place in the Church, and that’s a great blessing. I ended up editing an anthology of writing about staying Catholic after being harmed in the Church, even though my own experience has been really gentle, just because so many people would come up to me and share such painful experiences and such heartbreaking testimonies of faith in God in spite of suffering. Being a trustworthy recipient of those stories is priceless.
# You’re kind of forced to discover aspects of the Catholic faith which are now neglected. I’ve been amazed to learn about the way same-sex love and friendship are honored in Scripture, which nobody taught me when I was becoming Catholic! I’ve been able to discover that friendship used to be much more central to people’s ordinary lives than it is today, when we feel like the only “real” form of love between adults is marriage. I’ve learned about alternative forms of kinship and communal life, from super traditional stuff like godparenthood as kinship to newer things like intentional community. And I doubt I would have even tried learning about celibacy if I didn’t have to, whereas now I see celibacy as countercultural (always good, lol) and a way of life which can offer deep intimacy with God.
# Nowadays I mostly think about being gay as offering opportunities for love rather than temptation to sin, but even the aspects of temptation can be offered to God and used by Him to make us more humble. Any temptation, no matter how we end up responding to it, can remind us of our total dependence on God. And it can equally remind us that He loves us in our weakness. We don’t need to be somehow temptation-free or perfect for Him to cherish us.
# Celibacy is a pointed reminder that all our sexual longings are in some way preparations for or images of our longing for God. He is the complete fulfillment of a longing which even the best marriage fulfills only incompletely. (This may be why there’s no marriage in Heaven, although lol I don’t pretend to know exactly why God does things.)
# Celibacy almost always involves an element of sacrifice and suffering. I’m intentionally placing this last because I agree with those who say Catholics often put way too much emphasis on being gay as essentially, primarily “a cross” to be patiently borne. Again I think it just does not have to be as hard for gay people in the Church as it is, and I don’t want to romanticize our suffering or act like suffering is the best way to understand our sexuality. But we can be grateful for our suffering or sacrifices, by uniting them to Christ on the Cross and/or “offering them up” for other gay people, for those who persecute us, or for anybody we like. For some people this approach makes sense, for others it’s frustrating or depressing, but really none of the items in this list will make sense for every single gay Christian, so hey.
I think I have more stuff but this list is already too long! Your capacity for love is good, even if you struggle to find ways to express it. The fact that you share something important in common with other people, many of whom feel marginalized in the Church, is good even if it’s also complicated. If you were straight, or if you had no sexual desires at all, of course God would still make a way for you to serve Him and His people, but you’d be missing some experiences and possibilities which are open to you now. You’d gain certain things but lose others. The things you learn through being gay in the Church can help you be a good friend, a good Catholic, a good child of God.
“In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
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