Hearts of Flesh

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Gay or straight, first world or third, healthy or sick or totally deformed, you’re going to suffer. There was a time when I used to wonder why I, as a gay Catholic, had been singled out for what seemed to be an unusually cruel lot. Now I’m more apt to wonder how anybody makes it through our everyday ordeals at all. The terrors and frustrations of childhood, the pathless confusions of adolescence, the creeping ennui of young adulthood — it's a wonder any of us survive.

Which isn’t to say that it’s easy being gay and Catholic. It’s probably harder than what most people consider a normal life. Adolescence is disorienting and scary for anybody, but at least when you’re attracted to the customary gender, you’ve got your friends and family around you to help sort it out. Not so if you’re too scared to tell anybody what’s really going on.

So a lot of gay people grow up with a deep sensation of being totally alone, totally different; and of course the more different you feel, the less likely you are to open up to people, the more convinced you become that nobody else is like you. It’s a very dark hole to be down in, and the only reason I don’t live in that hole is because of the love of some very good people.

My sexual orientation isn’t the most important part of me, but it’s not just an isolated quirk, either. Being gay isn’t just about sexual attraction, any more than being straight is just about liking to look at naked women. Sex, in other words, is a very small part of sexuality; masculinity and femininity, and how we interact with each of them, has to do with a lot more than who we want to sleep with. It has everything to do with how we relate to other people, not only sexually but on the dailiest and most casual of levels.

Men learn how to interact with other men, and they learn how to interact with women, and these are two distinct arts. For me, speaking to other men, especially at an all-male gathering, still sometimes feels like speaking a foreign language. But it’s a language I’ve learned to speak with some fluency, and it’s with something like a linguist’s ear that I can enjoy some of its more idiosyncratic conventions.

I know I’m supposed to be frustrated with the Church for not letting me get married to another man, but I don’t feel that way. I might as well be frustrated with the Church for not allowing me to get pregnant. She couldn’t if she tried, because she doesn’t have the authority. The Church has the power to teach the truth, but not to create it.

I see good things happening for gay men and women. Naturally I disagree with gay activists about a lot of things, but I’m grateful to them for transforming the subject of homosexuality into something that can be talked about. The Jesuit theologian William Lynch says that, if we wish to offer hope to the hopeless, we have to enlarge our concept of the human, so that nobody is left outside it, no matter how apparently exotic their problems.

That’s our job, as Christians: to live in such a way that our friends will know, as Jesus’ friends must have known, that nothing could make us run away from them. Since my friends are good men and women, there’s always somebody I can go to when things get heavy. There’s always ten somebodies. They help me bear my burdens and I help them bear theirs; and, having shared burdens, we are better able to share joys.

Charles Williams says that Heaven is a place where everyone does everyone else’s laundry. Doing your own laundry, by yourself and for yourself, is a lonely and burdensome thing. But knowing that your friends will do yours, and do it well, and won’t think any less of you for the mustard stains — and having the chance to do theirs, and to not care about their stains either — that’s joy, that’s wealth, that’s what it means to be blessed.

In short, being gay is one more way of being human; or rather, it is one more way of being out of joint, in a world where nobody’s pieces fit together the way they should. Nobody makes it out of here alone. If we would be healed, we must be vulnerable with others; and by doing so we will teach them that it is safe for them to be vulnerable with us. In this way every man breaks down his own and his neighbor’s heart of stone, and begins to build a heart of flesh in its place.

Steve Gershom

About Steve Gershom

Steve Gershom is the author of the popular blog "Catholic, Gay, and Feeling Fine, Thanks" You can read his blog at stevegershom.com