Catholic and SSA

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Joseph Prever, who has blogged under the pseudonym Steve Gershom, (and who is Simcha Fisher’s brother), has written a rather intimate post discussing being homosexual and a practicing Catholic. You should read the whole thing, but here’s the key point:

You probably know this already, but I’m celibate, because I’m Catholic. You will not hear me talking about When Oh When Will The Church Get With The Times, because that kind of talk is boring nonsense. Guys, the whole point of having the Church is having one thing, just one!, that you can depend on to always be the same. Thank God for that.

If you want a church that constantly changes to fit in with whatever’s fashionable this decade, there are a bazillion options, and you’re bound to find one that is custom-tailored to your particular set of prejudices. Happy shopping.

It’s actually harder to come out as celibate than to come out as gay. Various people have pitied me, or tried to convince me that my life is vewwy vewwy sad, or tried to talk me out of it, or even surreptitiously tried to set me up with their gay friends. If you do this shit, I will not spin-kick you in the face, but I will very badly want to.

Now as is typical for the Catholic blogopshere, while many if not most have been supportive of Joseph, there is a rather vocal undercurrent that is more critical. Some of the more vitriolic, and frankly unhinged comments are simply not worth the time to respond to. There are a couple of more rational criticisms, expressed in many circles, that are worth addressing.

That Joseph uses the word “gay” to describe himself has bothered many. You’ll hear this complaint on many topics related to same sex attraction, particularly if you ever use the term “gay marriage.” There is some merit to this objection, as words do have significant connotations. Even Prever himself is uncomfortable with the word, and says so himself:

Some people have a problem with the word “gay”. That’s okay; I get it. I have a problem with it too. I’ve written a little about that. It’s not a perfect word, but words are like that. You have to know the context. My life is the context. Get to know me first, and then we can argue about it.

Unlike most who have read this paragraph I gather, I bothered to look at the link Prever provided, and it opened to his about page where he writes this:

So are you gay, or what?

You could say that, if you wanted to, although I don’t like the term and don’t identify with it. I’m attracted primarily and almost exclusively to men, and have been since I was about fourteen; but I don’t date men or have sex with them, so where does that leave me? I’m a faithful Catholic, so a romantic relationship with another man literally doesn’t fit into the way I see the world. I don’t see myself as different in any essential way from heterosexual men, so describing myself as “gay” doesn’t seem to fit.

On the other hand, “homosexual” sounds clinical, “queer” certainly isn’t me, and “man who’s attracted to other men” is cumbersome. So, “gay” is a useful sort of shorthand, and I’ll use it from time to time until a better word comes along. SSA (same-sex attraction) is a useful term too, as in “He has SSA” rather than “He is SSA.”

Okay, but can’t you please use some other word besides “gay”? People are going to get the wrong idea.

People have made the point that, by using the same terminology used by those who hold the view that homosexuality is a normal, natural, healthy, super-wonderful sexual variant of human behavior, I’m implicitly legitimizing that view.

This is a valid point. Over and against this point, however, I weigh the fact that the word “gay” is immediately recognizable. If anyone cares enough to read what I’ve written on the blog, they’ll find out what I think about it. And — let’s be honest — “gay” is much better for SEO purposes.

Scandal! Well, not really. This is an eminently reasonable argument. If you want to quibble, feel free, but to me it seems rather pedantic, and I’m not about to cast Mr. Prever into the hellfire for using the term.

The more serious criticism is basically this: it is wrong for Prever to identify as gay (or homosexual or SSA) publicly, as he is giving tacit support for the lifestyle. Essentially, his public profession gives scandal.

This is wrongheaded for a number of reasons. As he makes abundantly clear, he lives a chaste life. No one who reads what he has written could claim with any level of intellectual honesty that he has given tacit support for the homosexual lifestyle, or that his admission of being gay somehow implies that identifies as gay above being Catholic, or that it is his sole defining identification. I would like to believe that this audience is familiar enough with the Catechism to understand that nothing that Prever wrote contradicts in any way the Church’s teachings on homosexuality.

More importantly, the calls for Mr. Prever to, for lack of a better term, stay in the closet strikes me as stupefyingly boneheaded. We live in a culture where homosexual behavior is not only accepted, it is largely celebrated. Here we have an amazing testimony that goes profoundly against the grain. Here we have a gay man (sorry, homosexual) who proudly testifies to the truth of Holy Scripture, affirms the magisterial teaching of the Holy Church, and conforms his life to these teachings. And he should shut up? This magnificent sign of contradiction shouldn’t evangelize to the truth? Are you kidding me?

It seems that so often we Catholics strive diligently to be our own worst enemies. We do our best to shout down the very people who are the greatest testimonies to the awesome love  of our Lord.

I understand to a point the almost reflexive anger demonstrated by some Catholics when it comes to homosexuality. We feel we’re banging our heads collectively against a wall, battling a culture that seems (and is) outright hostile to our values. The Gestapo-like tactics employed against those who oppose this cultural transformation sickens us all. But can we just take a minute before becoming the caricatures we’re portrayed to be? Can we display that love of Christ here on Earth and embrace those who are the very exemplars of courage and sacrifice? Or would we rather obsesses over semantics and condemn to hell the very people who most need our support?

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29 Comments

  1. I don’t read anything in Mr Prever’s post that should draw any ire, at least from a serious Catholic. His choice to live a chaste life without recourse to reparative therapy is a perfectly legitimate one.

    I am one of those who disagree with the use of the word gay, simply because the meaning of the word has nothing to do with sexual orientation one was or the other. This part and parcel of how the left has been able to affect culture through use of euphemisms. As the late moral theologian Msgr. William B Smith used to say “All social engineering begins with verbal engineering.” This is something our side has yet to understand for the most part.

  2. It’s actually harder to come out as celibate than to come out as gay.

    I know I got harassed (by other straight females) as a celibate female; I’ve seen how guys get pushed to have sex. I have trouble imagining what it must be like for those with the niche identity issue…..

    I kind of like the way he’s using the term– it only causes scandal if we accept the claim that “gay” is an objective term which requires sexual activity, rather than a popular shorthand for what group one is interested in sexually.

  3. I guess I’m a bit out of touch because when I saw the headline of this story, “Catholic and SSA” I thought it was going to be about the Social Security Administration.

  4. I offer best wishes and prayers to Mr. Prever and others with SSA. However I do not support the “coming out as gay” inclination that he and other Catholics with SSA seem to have. Courage, the fine Catholic Apostolate , which ministers to those with SSA, specifically recommends against usage of the term “gay”.
    Our Lord created us with a human identity; as male or female. There is no third hybrid option. One is male or female, and will live out that identity as a celibate, or in marriage. To Mr Prever others I would respectfully say that you are a man, and your identity comes as a man, whether you live out your life as a single man, or in marriage. To self identify as “gay” seems to be quite self limiting. How much better to embrace manhood as the essential part of your human identity? Labeling yourself as “gay” adds nothing to your humanity, and in effect stigmatizes yourself.
    Our diseased culture, often with the witting or unwitting help of Catholics, has turned sex into an idol, which as much as anything explains the obsession with all things Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender; even to the point where Christians who refuse to validate the GLBT lifestyle are stigmatized and increasingly facing official state sanctioned persecution.
    And as an aside, if a faithful Catholic is right to publicy self identify as “gay” how about as a bisexual, or transgender? Since, no doubt they would say that is exactly who they are, why should they not “come out” as Bi, or Transgender Catholics? When they do, will that be a good thing, or will it confuse the essential message of The Faith, as contained in scripture and the CCC, wherein we acknowledge that God created us, male and female; our essential sexual identify as human beings, and called us to live chaste lives always, both within marriage and without. Identifying with a disordered lifestyle, which use of the word “gay” in my opinion does; as with the words “lesbian”, “bisexual”, or “transgender”, places ones feelings, passions,and inclinations far too much front and center; in a place where the Lord our God should be.
    That all said, I affirm that those who have SSA, whether they self identify as “gay” or not deserve, along with all human beings, our love in Christ.

  5. I will register a dissent. It is neither necessary nor proper for him to make a public point of this, or, really, much of anything particularly personal.

  6. That’s a really interesting blog. Thanks for linking to it.

    I read a few of the entries, and I didn’t see anything morally objectionable, and there was plenty that I’m really going to be thinking about. He should be lauded for providing insight to the world about his personal struggles with sexuality, something that’s problematic even for the saints.

    As for the use of the word “gay”, I guess it leads to misconceptions, but so do a lot of other words. I’m tired of semantic arguments over “schismatic” versus “independent”, “libertarian” versus “free market”, and any of the other debates that could go on forever. I was just trying to explain this to a “pro-choicer” who was offended at the term “pro-lifer”. Yes, words have baggage, but the reason we use words next to each other is to flesh out an idea. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t read a blog of a “gay Catholic”, but I’m glad I read this.

  7. Obviously I am not Foxfier, but it seems to me that Susan has a fixation for genital titillation, whether hetero or homosexual. How typical of today’s neo-pagan, post modern hedonists who insist that they are dedicated to reason, logic and science, but just can’t wait to titillate with the irresponsible abandon of the simians from which they think they evolved (or is that devolved?).

  8. If we are to live in the world, we have to use words that mean something to the people we are trying to evangelize too. We aren’t creating a closed society. So I think using the term “gay” and perhaps expanding or changing the definition to include those who have SSA but don’t act on it is a good way to reach beyond the Catholic fold. SSA is a temptation, like any other. I think it’s perfectly appropriate for us to talk about how we overcome and avoid those temptations that tug at our hearts.

  9. I would like to add that “same sex attraction” is ambiguous in a way that is destructive. The end of the attraction is not specified, only the object of the attraction. All people should have some level of same sex attraction because we need relationships with people of the same sex.The question is the end and effect of that attraction, not the object. Without this distinction it can be very damaging. For example, when I was subject to these therapies an unhealthy scrutiny and suspicion developed of all of my attractions which only made matters worse. Ergo, drop SSA it is more hurtful than helpful.

  10. My objection (which may be wrong) is that using the term “gay” seems to imply that there is a biologic determinism. “I am what I am.” Perhaps. This is even indirectly argued by Mr. Prever in that he notes that he has been attracted to men since age 14. Clearly alcoholism and schizophrenia have biologic (genetic) factors. Others like anxiety are a mix of genetic and environmental factors.

    As far as homosexuality (clinical yes, but accurate) is concerned, the argument for a genetic factor is still extremely weak. The best that some have come up with is that there is some genetic factor but it is not clear how much it contributes to the overall expression of homosexuality. Therefore, much of SSA (better?) seems to be environmentally influenced.

    That being the case, identifying oneself by one’s sexual drives seems misguided. Something more extrinsic rather than intrinsic to the person.

  11. Thank you Paul for shedding light on your personal issue. It made me realize that the term SSA is preferable, and that you made a personal decision based on SSA and live with it in the context of our Church! You are to be applauded! We are all children of God, and you obviously listen to Him!

  12. Since alcoholics were mentioned in a previous comment, I personally like what the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says about sex on pages 68 through 70 in chapter 5, “How It Works.” This discussion is given at the tail end of the instructions for performing a written Fourth Step: “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” It is reprinted below.

    I realize that the following is written from a secular perspective and my beliefs are decidedly from a Christian perspective, but remember the Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith designed the AA Program based in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, 1st Corinthians 13 and the Epistle of St. James. We know this from the other books that Bill Wilson wrote. And remember also when reading this that ultimately sexual relations (e.g., adultery, fornication, homosexuality, etc.) outside the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony fail Bill Wilson’s acid test in being possessed of selfishness, dishonesty and inconsiderateness. Sadly, that sometimes happens within marriage, too. 

    Now about sex. Many of needed an overhauling there. But above all, we tried to be sensible on this question. It’s so easy to get way off the track. Here we find human opinions running to extremes-absurd extremes, perhaps. One set of voices cry that sex is a lust of our lower nature, a base necessity of procreation. Then we have the voices who cry for sex and more sex; who bewail the institution of marriage; who think that most of the troubles of the race are traceable to sex causes. They think we do not have enough of it, or that it isn’t the right kind. They see its significance everywhere. One school would allow man no flavor for his fare and the other would have us all on a straight pepper diet. We want to stay out of this controversy. We do not want to be the arbiter of anyone’s sex conduct. We all have sex problems. We’d hardly be human if we didn’t. What can we do about them?

    We reviewed our own conduct over the years past. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, or inconsiderate? Whom had we hurt? Did we unjustifiably arouse jealousy, suspicion or bitterness? Where were we at fault, what should we have done instead? We got this all down on paper and looked at it.

    In this way we tried to shape a sane and sound ideal for our future sex life. We subjected each relation to this test-was it selfish or not? We asked God to mold our ideals and help us to live up to them. We remembered always that our sex powers were God-given and therefore good, neither to be used lightly or selfishly nor to be despised and loathed.

    Whatever our ideal turns out to be, we must be willing to grow toward it. We must be willing to make amends where we have done harm, provided that we do not bring about still more harm in so doing. In other words, we treat sex as we would any other problem. In meditation, we ask God what we should do about each specific matter. The right answer will come, if we want it.

    God alone can judge our sex situation. Counsel with persons is often desirable, but we let God be the final judge. We realize that some people are as fanatical about sex as others are loose. We avoid hysterical thinking or advice.

    Suppose we fall short of the chosen ideal and stumble? Does this mean we are going to get drunk. Some people tell us so. But this is only a half-truth. It depends on us and on our motives. If we are sorry for what we have done, and have the honest desire to let God take us to better things, we believe we will be forgiven and will have learned our lesson. If we are not sorry, and our conduct continues to harm others, we are quite sure to drink. We are not theorizing. These are facts out of our experience.

    To sum up about sex: We earnestly pray for the right ideal, for guidance in each questionable situation, for sanity, and for the strength to do the right thing. If sex is very troublesome, we throw ourselves the harder into helping others. We think of their needs and work for them. This takes us out of ourselves. It quiets the imperious urge, when to yield would mean heartache.

  13. I really don’t care that Mr. Prever calls himself gay because the more important fact is that he correctly strives to live a chaste life. I wish more Catholics who struggle with same sex attraction but who are also striving to live chaste lives would speak up!! Please speak up!! They are the lights in the darkness that can help save the souls of the misguided Catholics out there who think using contraceptives is okay (which is sexually deviant) but that gay “marriage” is wrong. Most Catholics have been a complete disaster in the face of the onslaught we are seeing from the “gay” activists simply because they have no clue what it means to live a chaste life…married or not! I would love to see more people like Mr. Prever speak up and stand along side the rest of us “straight” Catholics who are also striving to live chaste lives…I would welome that partnership in trying to help turn our culture around!!

  14. “I would like to believe that this audience is familiar enough with the Catechism to understand that nothing that Prever wrote contradicts in any way the Church’s teachings on homosexuality.”

    This calls for our support, not our condemnation, and should serve as the basis for any conversation about what he has written.

  15. That Joseph uses the word “gay” to describe himself has bothered many. You’ll hear this complaint on many topics related to same sex attraction, particularly if you ever use the term “gay marriage.”
    –Paul Zummo

    I too wish that Joseph Prever didn’t use the word “gay” in such ways but the burden of cleaning up the English language falls not on him but on all the rest of us who omitted making loud objections when a militant political movement and its media minions hijacked the word. So I realize that my wish doesn’t matter much today and won’t ever come to pass unless all the rest of us begin schooling the wider public that “gay” is a politics, “homosexual” is a lifestyle, and “same sex attraction” (or “same sex sexual attraction”, to answer Aaron Harburgh) is a source of temptation, something that by our God-given free will one can choose to give into or choose to turn away from.

    I kind of like the way he’s using the term– it only causes scandal if we accept the claim that “gay” is an objective term which requires sexual activity, rather than a popular shorthand for what group one is interested in sexually.
    Foxfier

    Yes, if only the distinction was always made so clearly in the popular media. What I see, though, is that many media mouthpieces are eager to eliminate the distinction between the personal and the political in order to advance the gay political agenda or curry favor with its partisans.

    It’s actually harder to come out as celibate than to come out as gay.

    I know I got harassed (by other straight females) as a celibate female; I’ve seen how guys get pushed to have sex.
    Foxfier

    I’ve seen it too. And I’ve seen how violent-crazy some straight females become when their sexual advances are refused by a young man trying to hold fast to his chastity. (That could be a topic for another time.)

  16. Michel Foucault has, rather drolly described the change that took place in the 19th century: “Sodomy, that of the old civil or canon laws, was a category of forbidden acts. Their perpetrator was nothing more than the juridical subject of them. The nineteenth-century homosexual became a personage: a past, a case history, and a childhood, in addition to being a character, a life-style and a morphology, with an over-inquisitive anatomy and, possibly, a mysterious physiology. Nothing that he was, escaped his sexuality… It was consubstantial with him, less as a habitual sin than as a singular nature…. The sodomite had been a lapse; the homosexual was now a species.” [My translation]

    From being a sinful action to be repented, or a vice to be overcome, “homosexuality” became a condition to be treated. Now, of course, for many, it is an identity to be validated.

  17. I wish more Catholics who struggle with same sex attraction but who are also striving to live chaste lives would speak up!! Please speak up!!

    Kim, it’s my privilege, notwithstanding my SSA, to strive for chastity as witness to my desire to live fully in Christ and to share His message with others. In this I am eternally thankful for the Courage apostolate (mentioned elsewhere) and for the brave priests, religious and lay folk who support it in the face of a rising tsunami of persecution of chastity. Your plea supports our cause, and I thank you for it.

  18. Michael Foucault wrote on the history of sexual discourse in the West. He says that sexual identities didn’t exist until Victorian doctors sought to understand and medicalize different sexualities. Prior to that, it would never have occurred to someone to slap a sexual label on someone such as straight or gay. Today, we identify people in terms of their sexuality, and we get all sorts of labels, yet they notably break down as is the case with bi-curious. This reflects the reality we learn from Scripture, that people are subject to a sinful nature and may or may not act according to passions. It is an anthropological matter of great importance.

  19. Jon

    It is no accident that Foucault is, perhaps, best known for his social history of madness, such as « Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique – Folie et déraison » (Paris: Plon, 1961) translated as “Madness & Civilisation” and « Naissance de la clinique – une archéologie du regard médical» (Paris: PUF, 1963) – “Birth of the Clinic – an Archaeology of Medical Perception.” Again, he describes the same process of medicalisation.

    I am far from agreeing with Foucault about most things, but he is an historian of prodigious and often obscure, learning and he does produce some remarkably good insights. There is a place in philosophy for the « enfant terrible »

  20. (This is adapted from something I wrote to a friend. It seemed appropriate here, although so many of you said more briefly some very good things.)

    Recognizing that we all have desires and appetites that we strive to satisfy, we also must admit that everyone of us also has disordered appetites that when out of control or not understood can lead us and our behavior astray. It becomes especially difficult to handle if a want, often tied to real needs, becomes a psychological fixation that brings on strong physical (sensual) reactions in our bodies. Self-mastery over our habits of thought and actions, virtue and a truthful moral compass are the answer, but these require constant vigilance.
    I would not be surprised if every person ever, except two, had to struggle with some kind of unhealthy sexual attraction because I believe Satan most easily takes advantage of perverting this strong, God-given drive. Even with married couples it can be a real challenge keeping sexual relations from self-seeking satisfaction and even if only in the mind, some perversity. In one way, concentrating on the act and not the person. Giving of ourselves selflessly and completely embracing the wholeness of another during sexual intercourse does not come easy in our sinful state.
    What does it mean when one person looks at another, or at their anatomy, and thinks, “I want a piece of that!” The attraction here is not based on “love” but a desire for a sexual “piece of meat” – of wanting to devour it or making it completely mine. It really has little to do with another person, rather it is about oneself and one’s own body parts. When you consider pornography, where there is only an image not even a person, this is even more obvious. In many ways I think masturbation is the training ground for this kind of sexual fixation focused on a body part and not on a person. That is, other than wanting to absorb and completely own your infatuated perception of other person.
    As a heterosexual person do I identify myself as Opposite Sex Attraction? What if I were tempted to , or should I say “oriented to” animals, teens or simply myself? Myself Sex Attraction? Or perhaps I have a myriad of sexual attractions, not just bisexual but “I’m MSA, Multi Sex Attraction?” My point here is, and I do finally get to the thread of this conversation, is that identifications like “I’m gay” fatalistically reduce a human person to being a behavior and not a whole person, who by the way has countless other behaviors and desires we could arbitrarily identify by. I think, for example, it is better to have the self- image as a person with an alcohol addiction rather than an alcoholic, although all these terms make for easy classification.
    As to “opening the closet” to share with the world just one of many attractions, “I’m oriented to only having sex with other men, but I live a chaste life” perhaps can be helpful in giving hope to others struggling with the same temptations. However, although I think it even courageous it could also be very damaging if it promotes the “doom” that identifies as “I am gay”, “I was born this way”, “this is who I am” and “I’ll do my best fighting it.” Whereas St. Paul is abundantly aware of his own temptations and failures, he does not make them his identity but finds himself in Christ and consequently, is “reoriented.”
    I have two brothers who claim to be “gay.” They say “they always felt different” and “knew from an early time” and fall back on the “being born this way” as a reason they cannot do anything about it. This is what I mean by being “doomed.” Instead of recognizing that we all develop “orientations” that need to be “re-oriented” they have given into letting this appetite devour them. And by no means do I mean to underestimate how hard that particular struggle can be as I humbly admit there are appetites that might have devoured me. Which brings me to my closing comment: While the homosexual agenda is a relentless attack on the truth of human sexuality and the human person, people we know and love don’t see, or want to see it this way. We are in great need of witnesses, probably martyrs, to speak convincingly and compassionately about the truth of human sexuality and the meaning of marriage instead of just knowing it ourselves. If this Joe can add his voice effectively, his witness is applauded by me.
    As an aside: I just heard that Gov. Christe is going to sign a bill pushed by the “gay lobby” to prohibit therapies for reorienting young homosexuals. He displayed such compassion and wisdom in telling us that he believed we are born this way and that it is not a sin. The funny thing is I have only seen newborns or young toddlers born male or female and not particularly sexually oriented anywhere yet. Perhaps he can also share with us his support for contraception, masturbation and being born multi-sexual, bestial or whatever? And while he’s at it, why not abolish the idea of sin altogether?

  21. Kevin

    Aristotle, as usual, has something good to say on this, if one takes the trouble to tease it out.

    In the Nicomachean Ethics, he observes that some states or conditions “arise as a result of disease (or, in some cases, of madness, as with the man who sacrificed and ate his mother, or with the slave who ate the liver of his fellow), and others are morbid states (C) resulting from custom, e.g. the habit of plucking out the hair or of gnawing the nails, or even coals or earth, and in addition to these, sexual intercourse with males [τῶν ἀφροδισίων τοῖς ἄρρεσιν – tōn aphrodisiōn tois arresin]; for these arise in some by nature and in others, as in those who have been the victims of lust from childhood, from habit.” (Nicomachean Ethics Book 7:5; Arist Eth Nic 1148b 27-30)

    (Note that some English versions translate τῶν ἀφροδισίων τοῖς ἄρρεσιν as paederasty, why I don’t know: Ἀφροδισιάζω means to have sexual intercourse and ἄρσην means male; ἄρρεσιν is the dative plural. Had he meant paederasty, there is a perfectly good Greek word for it, παιδεραστία – paederasty, as it happens]

    With his rather bizarre examples of hair-twisting and nail-biting, I believe Aristotle is making an important point that runs all through his ethical thinking. The good choice, “This – being such – is to be done,” is intelligible, because intelligent; the bad choice is, ultimately unintelligible. True enough, we can often trace its causes to instinctive or dispositional factors, but it remains logically incoherent. Such behaviours have causes, not reasons.

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