Humans don’t make sense without gender.
When I tell people I don’t believe that homosexual acts are right, I don’t mean two men shouldn’t have sex; I mean they can’t.
No, really, he’s my actual brother, Joey. Joseph Prever, to you. He’s been writing as Steve Gershom (“Catholic, Gay, and Feeling Fine, Thanks”) for a couple of years now, but today , with the help of Daffy Duck and Strong Bad, he’s shedding the semi-anonymity — and hoping it won’t hurt his chances with the ladies.
Go say hello! Good job, Joey. We love you.
[This is the second part of my interview with Steve Gershom. I posted the first half yesterday. Gershom has also written a four-part series about orientation change on his own blog, SteveGershom.com.]
Have you had any bad experiences with Christian organizations who try to bully or shame you into becoming heterosexual?
I know those things exist, but I’ve never seen them. Any organization I’ve come up against, there’s always been some good and some bad.
You spoke about “strands of homoeroticism” that run through most people, but also of the pathologies that often go along with homosexuality. So if you do see your homosexuality as a problem that needs fixing, what is the best way to approach it? Head-on, or through some more indirect approach to emotional health?
That very much depends on who you talk to. To my mind, there’s some parts of the various methods of reorientation therapy which I think are a great idea.
Like, some of the things they want to help men achieve are things that would be good for any man, straight or gay. Things like realizing that every human being has some amount of brokenness or twistedness relating to their own and other genders. It’s just as pathological for a straight guy to be working out at the gym for 16 hours a week and sleeping with three women at a time, because he has messed up idea of what masculinity and femininity are.
The good parts of the “ex-gay” movement are parts that make people address their brokenness in the realm of gender. Their real brokenness.
I went on a retreat which is controversial, a “Journey into Manhood” weekend. It’s been used as an example of the worst things about ex-gay world. And there were some friggin’ creepy things about it!
Like way the men who had been in the program treated each other: constant back massages, syrupy voices, stuff that dudes don’t do. Supposedly it was to teach men to be men, to get in touch with the masculinity that was always there. A lot of it was that, but a lot of it was: Well, we’re not going to have sex, but let’s do everything else, and call it “authentic mind-heart connection.”
But some of the good thing were learning some of the patterns that existed in my own ways of interacting with men, and recognizing some of the assumptions I unconsciously thought men were thinking about me. Learning to realize when a past trauma is still affecting your patterns of relating to other people. Those thing were legitimately dealt with in that weekend.
So, would you recommend an experience like this, with the good and the bad parts?
If you go in thinking, “I’ll swallow this thing whole!” — of course you’re going to get messed up. You have to discern whether you’re psychologically healthy enough to tell the difference between the good and the bad parts. There are people who are not in a psychological state to be ready for that kind of discernment.
I would say it’s probably always a mistake to try to directly pursue heterosexuality. But I don’t see anything wrong with trying to locate where you wounds are, and seeking healing for them. You may or may not hold out hope that as you heal, you might get “less gay.” I still recommend both the book, Growth Into Manhood, and the weekend, with the good and the bad, and if you’re able to discern the difference, then do so. The guy who wrote the First Things column you mentioned picked out the gross, bad things, highlighted them, and took them out of context.
Say you were talking to someone who’s just admitted to himself that he’s gay, and wants to try to change his orientation. What advice would you give to him?
First, find at least one person you can tell, and can talk to as regularly as possible. This is the most frustrating thing: someone will write to me, and say, “Help, I’m miserable!” So I ask if he’s told anyone he’s gay, and he says that nobody can know. But there’s nothing anyone can do unless they open up to one person. Ideally, someone who has a solid orthodox head on their shoulders, plus great empathy and patience. Those people aren’t a dime a dozen! What I always tell people is, if they’re Catholic, start by mentioning it in the confession, and see if the priest is receptive to meeting outside the confessional to talk about it.
I have also been helped by a therapist who saw no problem with gay relationships, but I made it clear that I did, and she respected that. Some people are dishonest, and will try to convince you that it’s really okay. That happened to me: someone said she respected my beliefs, but then she tried to manipulate me into a relationship with a friend of hers.
So, see if you can find a therapist, see if there’s a female friend you can talk to — because with women, there’s a lot less fear of judgment. It’s easier to tell a woman. But it’s more healing to tell another man, because it helps to deflate this overblown fear of rejection. On the other hand, you do read horrible news stories of guys who did tell other guys, and the things they did to him. So you have to be careful! And, you know, sometimes it helps to send out feelers: see how they talk about homosexuals when it comes up; see if they’re bigoted.
I was thinking about the Church’s teaching on sterilization. Getting sterilized reflects a disordered view about sexuality. But if you do get sterilized and then repent, you are not required to get surgery to repair it, and a married couple is not required to be abstinent. They may do these things, and I’ve known some couples who felt called to have restorative surgery, and are glad they did; but it’s not required.
So, do you think God wants everyone to be heterosexual? If you’re gay, are you required to at least try, in one way or another, to become heterosexual?
I don’t think the Church would ever require someone to be more heterosexual. I don’t think it’s possible; that phrase doesn’t make any sense.
I was all upset about a year ago because I was in love with this guy who wasn’t it love with me. I was talking to a friend about it, and I was talking about how I just needed to get over it and move on. And she said, “You know, there are some things that are not a matter of your will. You don’t have the power to stop feeling this way.” No one has the power to be more heterosexual, per se.
I know there is some debate over whether the Church should use words like “disordered,” because it makes people feel like they are intrinsically second rate. And I know there are some Christians who are not thrilled at the prospect of being celibate for the rest of their lives, but they accept their SSA as part of their identities, maybe like some deaf people refuse to call their lack of hearing a disability. Do you think there’s some comparison there? Is it legitimate to sort of “own” your gayness, even if you’re chaste and celibate, because it makes you who you are?
That’s why this is so tricky to talk about the definition of being gay.
Do I want to be no longer attracted to men? Absolutely. Would I like to be attracted to women? Absolutely. But would I like to lose any of the things closely tied to being attracted to men? It’s anybody’s guess what those things are, exactly. You can’t talk about life like that — what life might have been.
Right, and I know people who are who they are because of something horrible, like the death of a child. They have become strong and close to God because of it, but they can’t quite bring themselves to say they’re glad it happened!
Yeah. What part of who I am is because of the struggle? The ‘person you would have been’ doesn’t exist. I’m extremely glad to be who I am. But would I change the things that made me who I am? Of course. And that doesn’t make sense!
See, that’s the whole reason this “gay thing” is such a big deal — because it brings the paradoxes of human experience right onto the surface and makes them unavoidable. It’s why people can’t stop talking about it. It makes it impossible not to talk about the relationship between sex and procreation, or the difference between love and friendship. It makes these things pressing concerns; it makes them so explicit.
Well, let’s end with a really big question: what does chastity mean to you? Do you see any difference between how you, as a gay man, see it, and how you’ve heard it described by heterosexual people, either sexually active or not? Does it sound like we’re all talking about the same thing?
I don’t think I can answer that. I don’t know what chastity is yet. No one I talk to does, either.
[This ends the second half of my interview with Steve Gershom. For the first half, see yesterday’s post. Steve has also written a four-part post about orientation change on his blog,.]
On June 19, the ex-gay ministry Exodus International issued an apology for the harm it has done to LGBT people. The organization is now shutting down.Many secular organizations who embrace homosexuality as healthy are overjoyed to see Exodus go; but many Christian organizations — even those who see homosexual attraction as disordered — are also glad. Aaron Taylor of First Things, for instance, says that Exodus’ views and methods show that their idea of heterosexuality is just as disordered as homosexuality.
Steve Gershom is a Catholic blogger who has same-sex attraction and who lives a chaste, celibate life. In a Catholic Exchange article called The Truth About Same Sex Attraction, he recommended Growth Into Manhood by Alan Medinger, the CEO of Exodus International.
I called Gershom (a pen name) to ask about his experience with the ex-gay movement, and to ask whether it’s possible, or even desirable, for someone with same-sex attraction to become heterosexual.
Here is the first half of our interview. I’ll post the second half tomorrow. Gershom has also written a four-part post about orientation change on his blog.
In the past, you recommend Medinger’s book, a retreat sponsored by Exodus, and other resources which imply that you think that it’s at least possible for someone to change their sexual orientation. Do you still believe that? Or are there some problems with trying to do that?
Gay man, especially a gay Christian man, can focus really strongly on the question of orientation change, especially since the culture is really focused on getting married. And if you don’t achieve that, it’s hard to not feel like you’ve failed. Some people spend decades and thousand of dollars doing everything they can for reorientation therapy, and the kind of progress they make is slow and maybe ambiguous, maybe frustrating.
So many think they’ve succeeded, or even trick themselves into thinking they have — and then you hear about them later, and they’re with some guy. I do know several gay guys who are married to women and are making it work, but I don’t think they would claim they’re 100% straight. I’ve never heard any convincing anecdote about someone who’s completely changed.
But you think that some degree of change at least might be possible, or worthwhile?
I do think some degree of change is possible. I think that partly because of anecdotes. You can find anecdotes to support both directions.
But my own experience is that some degree of change is possible, by which I mean I’m less attracted to men then I used to be. The nature of the attraction is much less compulsive and much less urgent, much less troublesome then it has ever been. So that in itself may or may not be evidence of what someone might call “change,” regardless of whether you think of homosexuality as a pathology. Pathologies do exist in gay men. And in me.
What kind of pathologies?
Things like tendency toward codependency in relationships, and an intense experience of not belonging to the normal group of men. I think whatever your theories of the genesis of homosexuality, the point is that these kind of insecurities and mental anguishes among a lot of gay men fuels a lot of sexual promiscuity.
So, when you talk about reparative therapy, you can call it orientation change, or just call it developing a more integrated sexuality. You know? I don’t feel like I need to find a truck stop in the middle of the night! There’s all the difference in the world between a gay guy who’s cruising, and a gay guy who actually is just looking to find a nice guy. The second one has a more integrated sexuality, not a life-shattering sexuality.
So, are you saying there’s such a thing as a totally integrated homosexual sexuality?
No. There is no such thing as an integrated homosexual sexuality. I know a lot of Catholics and Christians would disagree with me. I understand that you don’t want to say that someone is to blame for feeling one way or another. And many people are coming out of a place of self-hatred, out of feeling contempt from the world. It’s really hard. But there are two propositions that you can’t hold at the same time: that homosexual acts are disordered, and that the desire for homosexual acts is not disordered.
But you say you are less attracted to men than you used to be.
Yes, and I am somewhat attracted to women, which I would not have said 2, 5, 10 years ago. That’s all something I don’t even know what to make of. I don’t talk about it a lot because I’m open to the charge of self-deception.
Does that mean you’re less gay now? What would that mean?
One thing we should talk about is the word “queer,” that many people use. Being queer is less about who you want to sleep with, and more about what is considered normal behavior for someone of your gender: attitudes, traits, characteristics. And so a lot of people who might say there is such thing as an integrated Christian homosexuality would say it has to do with being “queer,” which is to say you have a need for more emotional connection in the world of men, or more introspection or sensitivity. Those things that gay guys are famous for, right? There are men for whom those things are more natural; they have gifts and talents. But I would also say those things don’t have anything intrinsically to do with wanting to sleep with other men.
I read this book Images of Hope, by William Lynch (who wrote Christ and Apollo). It’s not specifically about homosexuality. He talks about the mentally ill. He talks about the tendency to treat mentally ill people as if they’re something outside of the human . . . because then we don’t have to sympathize with them, or admit that it’s possible that what’s happening to them could happen to us. I think homosexuality is perfect example of that. Lynch says as much. The experience gay men and women have is on the continuum of most people’s experience. I only learned this talking to straight guys about homosexuality.
It sounds like a really liberal thing to say, that homo- and heterosexuality are part of the same spectrum. But people are just trying to sort out what other people are to them, and who they are to themselves.
Yup, that sounds familiar!
Yeah. This is a phrase I keep coming back to, because it’s so expressive: Melinda Selmys’ phase “sexual authenticity.” She’s a lesbian Catholic married woman who still considers herself lesbian or queer or something. She said part of being gay is not just who you’re attracted to; it has to do with involuntary strands of homoeroticism through out your whole personality.
So there’s two reasons you could have hostility toward the “ex-gay” movement: one is believing you just have to fix this one bit, and everything will be okay. The second is actually believing you do have to fix the whole thing, and that your personality has to be completely redone.
It’s like, the fact that I’d be interested at all in having sex with a man is not some strange, isolated quirk. You can’t have someone who’s just like a straight guy in every other way except that he wants to be having sex with a man. Everyone who knows anything about people knows that doesn’t make sense! Anyone who thinks that really is damaging people.
Who you’re sexually attracted to affects how you relate to both genders on an everyday basis. Or the other way around: how you relate to people affects who you’re attracted to.
[This ends the first half of my interview with Steve Gershom. I will post the second half tomorrow. Steve has also written a four-part post about orientation change on his own blog, SteveGershom.com.)