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This blog is maintained by the Ruth Institute. It provides a place for our Circle of Experts to express themselves. This is where the scholars, experts, students and followers of the Ruth Institute engage in constructive dialogue about the issues surrounding the Sexual Revolution. We discuss public policy, social practices, legal doctrines and much more.
by Jennifer Roback Morse
First published January 4, 2016, at Crisis Magazine.
The Sexual Revolution was supposed to liberate us from sexual stereotypes. In fact, we have replaced the old stereotypes of gay men with new and even more rigid stereotypes. Perhaps some people regard the new view of gay as more positive and affirming than the old view. But the New Gay Man is no less limiting, impersonal, and ultimately dehumanizing. If a particular gay man does not fit into the narrow politically correct boxes, we can’t see him. And worse, he may not be able to see himself clearly.
So let us open up some options for our brothers who experience same-sex attraction. No, actually, that is not quite correct. Let us recognize the options that already exist. Let us take notice of the variety of ways in which these men can and do live their lives.
Some of the holiest men I know are men who have experienced same-sex attraction as an ongoing inner reality in their lives. They have made a decision not to act on their same-sex desires. Their holiness stems precisely from the challenge this decision presents. They know they need God. And like Mary Magdalene, they love much because they have been forgiven much.
Some men struggle with and eventually conquer their sexual temptations. But some men still struggle with related issues: needing to be the center of attention, inappropriate hostility toward women; undue insecurity around men; general insecurity about their identity; troubled relationships with their fathers. All these concerns can plague the same-sex attracted man, even one who is successfully living a celibate life.
Some same-sex attracted men participate in sexual activity with other men. They do it to varying degrees and at varying times of their lives. Some may have periodic sexual experiences and a “take it or leave it” attitude. Others are full-on sex addicts. Depending on their age and temperament, some same-sex attracted men may be content to partner with one particular person. Others have hundreds of sex partners and are still unsatisfied.
Some same-sex attracted men are empathetic and good listeners, whom women find appealing. Others drip with contempt for women. Still others are just obsessed with themselves, and indifferent to everyone around them. As Oscar Wilde’s wife said of him, “Through all his struggles, he did not learn the one thing he most needed to learn: that he is not the only person in the world.”
Some men engage in same-sex sexual activity for a season of their lives: all-male boarding schools, prison or aboard ships. Some of these men later marry, father children and live conventional lives. Some same-sex attracted men get married without denying that they feel same-sex attractions. They love their wives and are good and faithful husbands and fathers.
Some same-sex attracted men are attracted to younger men, over whom they can exert power and dominance. Others seek out older men in an effort to heal their father-wounds. Some behave in a predatory manner, seeking out vulnerable younger men and even boys, grooming them and gaining their trust as a prelude to seduction.
Some same-sex attracted men are deeply ashamed of themselves, and wish they could change some or all of their behavior. Others are totally shameless.
We don’t really know why some men experience same-sex attraction and others do not. Most likely, there are a number of factors operating in different people to different extents and in different combinations. Some men may have become sexually fixated on men after being molested at an early age. Some men may have experienced parental influences that drove their sexual desires in a particular direction. And yes, it is possible, though not proven, that some people were indeed, “born that way.”
In fact, the significance of that phrase, “born that way,” can vary considerably. For one person, it may be the truth as he experiences it. For another, it may be a permission slip to engage in behavior he could not justify otherwise.
And coming from the lips of a narcissistic predator, it could be nothing more than a pick up line: “You were born that way. You can’t help it. It is ok. Doing this with me, letting me do this to you, is your true self, your path to happiness.”
And the most manipulative of all the seductive whisperings from a predator to his prey, “God made you this way. He wants you to be happy. You should do this with me.”
What do these beliefs have in common? The idea that there is one and only one valid form of expression for each person who experiences same-sex attraction is a form of moral determinism that robs the person of meaningful choices. Likewise, the “Born That Way” belief suggests that once a person discovers an inkling of same-sex attraction, he need not engage in any further moral deliberation. Both beliefs are a kind of Calvinism without grace, a terrifying prospect, even for—or maybe especially for—a Calvinist.
As a Roman Catholic, I have no patience for Calvinism, with or without grace.
It should be obvious that it is a disservice to use a single word, “gay,” to describe all these people. Calling oneself or another person “gay” does not do justice to the full range of choices regarding how to view himself, how to behave, and how to relate to other people that each man possesses.
So who benefits from these ideological straight jackets? The Sexual Revolutionary ideologues of course. No doubt they are recruiting more foot soldiers for their political crusade. But foremost on their mind is a desire to promote more self-indulgent sex. They owe the other person the courtesy of revealing what they are signing up for. A sleight of hand of this magnitude is manipulative, not liberating; dehumanizing, not uplifting.
This is why I avoid the term “gay.” I urge you to do the same. Let’s give our brothers the dignity of seeing them as they really are: men.