Band-Aids on Bullet Wounds: Where Faith Based Approaches to Homosexuality Have Failed
When the Lord first Saved me from the sad and lonely world of homosexuality – I quickly realized that my problems, past, present and future, would go way beyond just the struggle for any enduring form of chastity. Actually, in the beginning, chastity was rather easy for me; it was like this: when I was a kid, a few times, usually around Easter or Halloween, I would get a hold of a large quantity of candy; unbeknownst to my parents – I hid a huge amount of the stuff and ate until my heart’s content. Subsequently, I was sick to my stomach, the thought of eating candy again was revolting; and, for a while, I stayed away from it altogether; and, I didn’t miss it. It was like that for me and sex; at least for a few years. This freedom from concupiscence made me want to delve deeper: I knew I could be chaste, but I needed to know why I became gay in the first place.
Upon returning to the Catholic Church, I noticed an immediate emphasis on chastity, especially with regards to any outreach with the gay community or those wanting to leave the homosexual lifestyle. That was fine; after all, an alcoholic who wants to quit drinking, or a heroine addict who wants to stop shooting up – must end using immediately; you don’t go from two bottles of vodka a day to one bottle, or you don’t cut your heroine intake in half, all who have experienced addiction know that such weaning is a set-up for disaster; what you do it quit cold turkey, go through the withdrawals, and then start anew; and as all recovering addicts know – this is where the real work begins. Gay icon and chronic life-long addict Elizabeth Taylor, after reemerging from being dried-out at the Betty Ford Clinic, once said: “I had to face things at Betty Ford I had never had to face before. I learned that I had spent years squelching my real feelings…All the years of covering up the pain and keeping it quiet had created a lot of scar tissue.”
Yet, there is no Catholic Betty Ford Clinic – and my perception was that the Church, with regards to its gay outreach, seemed to leave homosexuals as sort of dry-drunks; still gay, just not having sex anymore. For myself, that was completely inadequate. First of all, how could I control or master an impulse, same sex attraction, if I had no idea where is was coming from; second, chastity without healing felt forced and unnatural – with my gay orientation still intact, I always perceived that I was denying myself; that God, and the Church, took something away from me, that they were imposing their will; thirdly, I was still in pain – I was outwardly chaste, but I wasn’t happy. Like Taylor, I had a lot of scar tissue and I didn’t really even understand that I had it (see notes 1-5). Because, for the most part, I suffered, as do many gay man, from something called Anosognosia, or the inability to understand that you have a serious mental illness; about a half of schizophrenics have this condition. With that in mind, all the talk about chastity, the importance of prayer, and the need for fellowship and support wasn’t going to mean anything until I could finally admit that I was sick, that I was damaged, and yes – that I was “disordered.”6 And, herein lies the problem with some faith-based outreaches, because there is often some quibbling as to this point; for instance: “—the attraction is disordered, not the person.”
Following that rational, the disordered inclination is then perceived as something which exists entirely outside of yourself; next, the choice to remain chaste becomes an endless battle against an invisible haunting force; with the effort as incredibly noble, but ultimately exhausting and habitually prone to relapses, discouragement, and an eventual return to homosexual activity. This cycle of recidivism and Confession often locks men into the orientation because the source and cause of those deeper wounds which created the homosexuality are never fully examined. Without this painful dip into the fragile psyche, efforts to address the problem of homosexuality remain focused on “…homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity” while ignoring the equally important statement that: “Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.”* Therefore, in order to literally reorientate ourselves towards Christ – the faith-based approach must include the healing of the body, mind, and spirit.
This must start with the acceptance that what I am feeling is wrong and that those affections, even though I do not act upon them, are disordered. With that sort of simple clarity, it becomes obvious that in order to remain chaste – the reason for those disordered desires must be explored. At this point, a lack of willingness to enter our own dark hearts often marks a prideful clinging to old ways and a refusal to acknowledge that the gay orientation itself is the ultimate source of the problem; this concept of gay denial has currently materialized in the tendency of some Catholics to still self-identify as gay while simultaneously extolling chastity. Yet, in order to move on, we must Trust in Our Lord Jesus Christ; this is frequently difficult because, as gay men, we carry the sorrow of having been betrayed and broken by others, sometimes by those closest to us, making it a scary experience to allow someone inside our little sheltered world of make-believe safety. Yet, at some point in every gay man’s life, we did let something in – usually it was the unwary promise of happiness by just admitting that we were gay; call it a homosexual demon, but we did accept it and we did let it in; later, a perfectly courageous priest finally freed me of this horrific possession.
In my own experience, following exactly as Christ taught us to “become as little children,” in order to heal – I had to do just that: go back to all the turmoil, abuse, and hate of my childhood. In general, this collective gay trauma has been subconsciously acknowledged by the homosexual community with the “It Gets Better” project which recounts the terror then speeds to the fantasy of lasting contentment only achieved through gay self-realization. In actuality, going gay only buries the pain. For many years, I did that. And, rather quickly, often covered over by the thickening haze of the porn that filled my head from age 8 onwards – I began to forget that it even existed. Now, I had to remember, because those buried memories were controlling my life: often directing my actions and determining my attractions. In fact, most gay men who experienced some form of trauma during childhood later act out the abuse in a vain attempt to somehow normalize it.7. For instance, when I was a little kid – a very mean-spirited and aggressive boy incessantly made fun of the way I talked, how I moved my arms, and my overall general air of timid sissyness. Much later, when I got heavily into bondage and disciple, the last ultra-perverted stop in the already kinky world of gay sex, all these once submerged humiliations from my childhood returned. Ultimately, reenacting it only helped for a few moments; in the same way – merely embracing chastity, just seemed to suppress the pain as well. Only, when I no longer feared what I would find in my past – did I allow Our Lord Jesus Christ to heal me fully. On my near death-bed, I simply called out to Jesus – and He Saved me; after much struggle, I understood that God didn’t want to leave me chaste and gay: “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.” (Acts 3:16)
1. “Gay and bisexual men were more likely than heterosexual men to be diagnosed with at least one of the five mental health disorders assessed in the MIDUS, after we adjusted for possible demographic confounding. In particular, gay and bisexual men were 3.0 times more likely to meet criteria for major depression and 4.7 times more likely to meet criteria for a panic disorder than were heterosexual men. Further, nearly 20% of gay–bisexual men overall were comorbid for two or more disorders, a prevalence exceeding that seen among heterosexual men. Differences observed between gay–bisexual and heterosexual men were unchanged when effects associated with treatment for HIV or AIDS in the prior year were considered…”
“Prevalence of Mental Disorders, Psychological Distress, and Mental Health Services Use Among Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Adults in the United States”
Susan D. Cochran, J. Greer Sullivan, and Vickie M. Mays
Published in final edited form as:
J Consult Clin Psychol. 2003 Feb; 71(1): 53–61.
2. “Meta-analyses revealed a two fold excess in suicide attempts in lesbian, gay and bisexual people. The risk for depression and anxiety disorders (over a period of 12 months or a lifetime) on meta-analyses were at least 1.5 times higher in lesbian, gay and bisexual people and alcohol and other substance dependence over 12 months was also 1.5 times higher.”
A systematic review of mental disorder, suicide, and deliberate self-harm in lesbian, gay and bisexual people”
Michael King, corresponding author…
BMC Psychiatry. 2008; 8: 70.
Published online 2008 Aug 18. doi: 10.1186/1471-244X-8-70
3. “The 7-day prevalence of depression in men who have sex with men was 17.2%, higher than in adult U.S. men in general…Depression was also associated with histories of attempted suicide, child abuse, and recent sexual dysfunction.”
“Distress and depression in men who have sex with men: the Urban Men's Health Study.”
Mills TC et al.
Am J Psychiatry. 2004 Feb;161(2):278-85.
4. “Lifetime major depressive episode (MDE) affected 33.2% of the youth. Lifetime conduct disorder (23.6%), alcohol abuse/dependence (19.6%), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD; 16.0%), and nicotine dependence (10.7%) were also common…Most participants with mental disorders never received treatment, and comorbidity was common.”
“Mental health disorders in young urban sexual minority men.”
Burns MN et al.
J Adolesc Health. 2015 Jan;56(1):52-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2014.07.018. Epub 2014 Oct 5.
5. “Gay, lesbian, and bisexual young people were at increased risks of major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, conduct disorder, nicotine dependence, other substance abuse and/or dependence, multiple disorders, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts…Findings support recent evidence suggesting that gay, lesbian, and bisexual young people are at increased risk of mental health problems, with these associations being particularly evident for measures of suicidal behavior and multiple disorder.”
“Is sexual orientation related to mental health problems and suicidality in young people?”
Fergusson DM1, Horwood LJ, Beautrais AL.
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1999 Oct;56(10):876-80.
6. “The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”
7. “Childhood sexual abuse is associated with high-risk sexual behavior in men who have sex with men…Results indicated that men who have a history of childhood sexual abuse were more likely to: engage in high-risk sexual behavior (i.e., unprotected receptive anal intercourse), trade sex for money or drugs, report being HIV positive, and experience non-sexual relationship violence. Results of this study extend previous research to show that men who have sex with men and who have a history of child sexual abuse are more likely to be at high risk for HIV infection.”
“Trauma symptoms, sexual behaviors, and substance abuse: correlates of childhood sexual abuse and HIV risks among men who have sex with men.”
J Child Sex Abus. 2004;13(1):1-15.
* “Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” (1986).