“The Church’s teaching, specifically on homosexuality but also on other areas of sexual ethics, was probably my biggest stumbling block in becoming Catholic. It was something I was pretty concerned over. One thing that’s been helpful for me is seeing that Scripture uses both opposite-sex and same-sex love as models or mirrors of the love of God and the human soul…”
I think this quote from Eve Tushnet, in the 2015 video “Owning Our Faith,” reveals what is the major problem in so-called Catholic “gay” and LGBT ministries, as well as with the major presumptions of the “Spiritual Friendship” movement.
The whole Spiritual Friendship phenomena goes part and parcel with a larger crisis within the “gay” community that is a direct result of the intense trauma, particularly in gay men, experienced during the height of AIDS epidemic. The current rather conservative swerve towards embracing, what queer theorists used to call heterosexist norms, by a subsect of the gay community in their rush towards same-sex marriage, parenthood, and social responsibility, I argue is not a sign of progress, but of intense panic.
For those of us, like myself, who lived through the 1980s and 90s, subconsciously, we all realized that the gay experiment had failed us. I first saw this in the often myopic vision of ACT-UP and their repeatedly ugly and violent game of blaming those who had very little to do with the rise of the AIDS plague. This situation finally came to a head, when a 1989 demonstration went out of control at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City: a group of protestors disrupted Sunday Mass and one of them desecrated a consecrated host. At the time, although I was by no means a Catholic, hearing about these antics made me cringe; yet, I also thought – why do we care what the Catholic Church thinks? In hindsight, it was a desperate plea for attention; a demand for recognition from a God that they thought had abandoned them.
Next, I too remembered becoming angry by the early-90s, when the gay community inconceivably shifted its focus, at a time when the death rates were at its highest, to what I thought was the non-issue of gays in the military; now, I see this as a concerted move from desperation to avoidance. During the initial years of the AIDS epidemic, the late “gay” journalist Randy Shilts warned about the possible damage to the collective “gay” psyche if the devastation of AIDS was not properly addressed on an individual and community-wide basis:
“The most important thing for most gay men…is going to be just keeping sane in the face of all this suffering, because what I do know is going to happen is that we are going to be facing an incredible amount of untimely death…We need to begin gearing ourselves for it psychologically as human beings.”
But, it was never done: following the fight which ended with “don’t ask don’t tell,” simultaneously, science and the pharmaceutical companies, came up with new and more effective ways of extending the lives of those in infected with HIV. With that out of the way, clearly in recent years, although not reaching the astronomical rates during the 1980s, HIV infections among “gay” men have continued to climb throughout the post-AIDS era. With an HIV diagnosis seen as a “manageable chronic disease,” the “safe-sex” practices of the 1980s and early-90s have been almost completely abandoned; only, another unforeseen effect of this return to disco-era promiscuity has been the reemergence of syphilis in gay men and the disturbing new reality of antibiotic resistant gonorrhea.
During an outreach at a San Francisco “Pride” Festival, I met a young man in his early-20s. When we talked about some of the health concerns in the “gay” community, he rather nonchalantly told me he had already been through several bouts of gonorrhea. I thought he looked old and tired – his preoccupation with the sights and sounds of the parade masking an inner uneasiness. When I asked him how generally things were going – he remarked briefly about the stress of holding down multiple jobs, the economic pressure of maintaining the appearance of a “glamorous” gay urban life, and the constant fighting amongst his roommates in their cramped apartment. Before he walked away, he asked for a prayer.
As a “gay” man in the late-1980s and 90s, I witnessed a certain process of attrition that took place somewhat by accident. Initially, those who survived the constant onslaught of AIDS, usually when they entered their late-20s and early-30s, began to show signs of a distinct fatigue. While based solely on our insatiable need for male love, the hopefulness that initially drew us to homosexuality, faded as we stood-by motionless as more and more once beautiful young men feel silently into their graves. In order to even partially cope, a number of shell-shocked gay men almost immediately paired-up, bought a home on the outskirts of the Castro, and pooled like-minded and similarly traumatized men around them as a sort of self-imposed refugee group of former death-camp survivors.
Those who initially pushed for marriage have subsequently been overpassed by the next generation – who never witnessed the carnage of the AIDS scourge. But, none-the-less, these semi-fresh recruits have seen the continuing ravages of HIV, in terms of rabidly spreading infections that can translate into rates of over 25% in certain urban gay neighborhoods, and the desperation thriving on such internet venues as Grindr and SCRUFF, as well as the chem-sex phenomena – whereby near fully inebriated men take on all comers. While some have reveled in this new-found world of sexual freedom, a few have been shaken and are now seeking safety in these rather bizarre reimagined 1950s bourgeois enclaves of domesticity; this is the antithesis of what I saw going on inside gay during the 1980s – when the community was still grappling with the legacy of sexual liberation that was left behind by the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Andrew Holleran, and Jack Wrangler. It was these harbingers of unbridled male passion that set-up the gay sex culture of the 1970s, which, in-turn, inadvertently led to the destruction of AIDS.
Today, some in the LGBT community are claiming that male homosexuality has passed through a series of phases with the rampant promiscuity of the 1970s as an earlier stage of development which signaled the explosion of sexual freedom after years of closeted alienation and seclusion. According to them, this somewhat reckless and adolescent behavior, the gay community has collectively moved beyond and has now reached maturity: evidenced by the issue of gay marriage. Yet, before the Supreme Court decision – according to a 2016 Gallup Poll: 7.9% of gay adults were married, that percentage rose to 9.5% after Obergefell v. Hodges, but has since leveled off. In comparison, according to US census data, although heterosexual marriage has continued to decline in recent years: about 50% of men and women age 18 or over are married.
Therefore, this current hysteria over same-sex marriage is an attempt by those who were heavily traumatized by the ravages of AIDS and the contusing loneliness and depression within the gay lifestyle, to somehow micro-manage male homosexuality. But, in attempting to do so, they utterly ignore the hormonal differences between men and women probably seen most dramatically in pop-culture with the overwhelming male penchant for pornography and the female preference for erotic literature; one is constantly wandering and laser-focused on a quick-fix, while the other is more sedate and prone to an insular form of safe imaginative eroticism. I discovered this remarkable sex difference when I walked into my first “gay” bar – where the public restroom was a crammed and dripping entanglement of naked thrusting bodies. Later, when I frequented drug-addicted female prostitutes, I never met a single one who would even momentarily entertain the thought of anonymous intercourse inside a dirty toilet stale; let alone unpaid sex. In addition, the brutal reality of gang-rape, which has no corollary among women, exposes the often unpredictable and highly volatile nature of male sexuality. Again, the timeless observations of Randy Shilts are critical:
“…you had a gay male subculture in which there was nothing to moderate the utterly male values that were being adulated more religiously than any macho heterosexual could imagine…Promiscuity was rampant because in an all-male subculture there was nobody to say ‘no’ –no moderating role that a woman plays in the heterosexual milieu. Some heterosexual males privately confided that they were enthralled with the idea of the immediate, available, even anonymous, sex a bathhouse offered, if they could only find women who would agree. Gay men, of course, agreed quite frequently.”
Today, the proverbial bathhouse has become superfluous and has been replaced by the likes of Grindr and Scruff. These sorts of geosocial networking apps are especially suited for the male sexual psyche – by which men literally window shop through an endless stream of headless torso or crotch shots that mirror the focus of the camera in gay male porn. On-line profile preferences have replaced the hanky-codes of the 1970s – whereby the color of a cloth bandana, down to which pocket it was stuffed into, non-verbally signaled to other gay men your particular sexual fetish – removing the need for any forms of communication beforehand or after. The cover for the 1979 Village People album “Live and Sleazy” depicts the truth of male homosexuality; it’s aggressive, sweaty, and unstable. The homosexual elites have found this reality wholly inconvenient in their methodical program to reshape the image of the homosexual. To further their cause, namely to make the benevolent gay couple more palatable to the suburban middle-class, they have built new icons in the forms of the insipid Ellen DeGeneres and Nate Berkus.
The Spiritual Friendship group emerged out of this same fearful milieu; for the most part, what I have gleaned from their biographies, they are a group of rather awkward looking men and women with no or little sexual experience in the broader gay world. They want to be a part of it, they want to celebrate its accomplishments, uniqueness, and superficial beauty, but they also want to remain separate. They have superior and inflated views of themselves and of their ideas evidenced by the constant and cumbersome references to each other’s work. I sometimes see this in certain gay couples I meet; they are somewhat disdainful of the troops of half-naked guys at “Pride” festivities, who go about walking around with dog-collars around their necks, but in describing their current home life, they sometimes neglect to mention that they themselves met at a bathhouse or at a gay bar and had sex a few hours after first meeting; most presently hold to the negotiated rule that they only “play together.” The prissy, lily-white, virus-free homosexual circles that the gay community likes to make believe exists – never really materialize except in the minds of a few elites in the gated-communities of Hollywood, New York City, and San Francisco.
I think the Spiritual Friendship group imagines something similar – amongst themselves they have created gay Catholic “safe spaces” in which men and women can endlessly discourse about their longing for chaste hand-holding; where I have found their near comparable, is at gay affirming Catholic parishes, and in their “official” corresponding LGBT-friendly “ministries.” Like the Spiritual Friendship group, they are both predisposed to hysteria – as witnessed in the fact that they see collective homophobia engrained within the Church and within society at large. They feel shut-out and that the Church is offering very little in return for them giving up sexual relationships with those of the same gender. In a recent “Spiritual Friendship” article, Ron Belgau echoes the sentiments of his fellow Friendship contributors:
Several years ago, Eve Tushnet wrote, “you can’t have a vocation of not-gay-marrying and not-having-sex. You can’t have a vocation of No.” This need to focus on the positive side of Christian discipleship has often been echoed by other Spiritual Friendship writers. Most recently, Melinda Selmys said, “If we are going to say ‘no’ to gay marriage, we have to provide gay people with human relationships where we offer love, fidelity and mutual support.”
Where do they hope to find this supposed gay relationship based on “love, fidelity, and mutual support?” While I have made many friendships, within the context of the narrow gay Catholic identity, such “particular friendships” as they were once labeled during religious formation in the all-male environments of seminaries and monasteries, are highly fraught with danger – made even all the more unpredictable when both of the participants are same-sex attracted males. They want the tingly heat of homoeroticism, while capriciously remaining in the cool of the innocent.
In his article for Spiritual Friendship titled “Loving Men” author Wesley Hill quoted another “gay” Christian who wrote: “I found myself delighting in certain men in a way that was distinctly gay but also chaste…” This attitude is the product of inexperience and incredible naiveté; male sexuality, especially gay male sexuality because it’s connected with lingering issues of affirmation and need, is immensely combustible. I will never forget my first few weeks in late-1980s gay San Francisco, after having already been picked-up and dumped by a series of smooth-talking older men, one night, I went to a disco with only the intention of dancing my doubts away. Then in the midst of the thumping music and feeling the oppressive but oddly liberating crush of male bodies next to me; I promptly submitted when a faceless man approached me from behind. Years later, as a gay Catholic, I befriend another Castro casualty who was also grinding through chastity while trying to maintain a gay identity. When we became fast friends, a night of sitting too close on the couch while watching TV, turned into a prolonged touch and then a kiss.
Until the sexual desire is effectively removed from the equation, ideally by a same-sex attracted male developing a friendship with a heterosexual family man, in no way can even a “gay” chaste relationship mirror “the love of God and the human soul.” Because, regardless how fulfilling that relationship may be between two same-sex attracted individuals, it will never reach the fulfillment of marriage; on that topic, Bishop Fulton Sheen wrote: “All love tends to become like the one loved. God loved man and He freely became man and appeared as Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God. Man loves woman and woman loves man, and their loves, too, tend to an incarnation of love in the flesh of their offspring.” No matter how steadfastly those who share the Spiritual Friendship mind-think try to tease this new false reality into existence by framing the argument within a seemingly Catholic structure, what they are doing is simply analogous to the secular gay push for same-sex marriage: equating the relationship between two men or two women, who are attracted to each other, with the complimentary of the male/female dynamic. In both cases, the protective possibility of gay marriage and same-sex love is comforting when the gay world always appears to spin relentlessly out of control.
Sadly, they also fail to realize the blatantly obvious: while the Spiritual Friendship group laments that the Church hasn’t provided them with the opportunity to encounter other love-sick and emotionally fragile gay Catholics, they pass over what Our Lord, Our Lady, and even St. Joseph, are eager to bestow upon those who would only ask – a truly incorruptible love that transcends all “human relationships” and elevates the person beyond the mere psychological need for a same-sex friend without benefits. Because, when you actively go about seeking other same-sex attracted individuals, especially those who are stubbornly still self-identifying as “gay,” you are further embedding yourself within the homosexual mindset. In the end, the Spiritual Friendship group is an example of further fragmentation within the wider gay community – a sort of new colored hanky in the infinite list of gay preferences and identities. Yet, the tragedy goes even further, as these earnest, but confused, people are genuinely wounded – only, when they create these mutually-confirming groups, or enter into special friendships, they begin to constantly look outward for the source of their persistent pain (imagining rampant and institutionalized homophobia) – while a deeper examination of the self is never fostered.
Spiritual Friendship contributor Aaron Taylor is an example of a massive circumvention in the gay Catholic sphere – particularly, in his labored essay: “Intrinsically Disordered? How Not to Talk About Homosexuality.” Here, he laments the Church’s use, even the mere presence of, the term “intrinsically disordered” with regards to homosexuals. It’s this sort of inane nit-picking that one finds in current transgender discourse with the hysterical preoccupation over gender pronouns and public bathroom access, while, in the meantime, transgender individuals have the highest HIV rates (28%) among any US population, even exceeding “gay” men; again this reminds me of the early-90s “gay” political fixation on homosexuals in the military when AIDS deaths were at their highest. But, the Spiritual Friendship group does not cover this territory, instead they sequester themselves in ever smaller gay Catholic echo chambers – hopefully pairing off in the process and where, as they claim like Christ and the Apostle John, they can lay their heads on each other’s chest. These are frightened people looking to snuggle with mommy or daddy; their inability to recognize the essential source of this desire, again, has created panic.
I think this panic, within the gay Catholic movement, was exhibited nowhere more perfectly than in a rather desolate speech given by Melinda Selmys, which oddly received several rounds of uproarious applause, at the 2012 Annual Courage Conference; she said:
“Why no matter how hard I’ve tried to conform to hegemonic gender tropes – and believe me, I’ve tried; I’ve always felt like a fraud, an inauthentic simulacrum of womanhood. I think it’s necessary to move beyond the horizons of early childhood experience, towards the innate dispositions which caused me to experience gender relations in the way that I did. The dispositions have always been with me, shaping my relationships and unfortunately – no amount of motherhood, apple pie, hot straight sex, prayer to the Virgin has caused them to disappear. Thus, I am, was, and will be – yours queerly Melinda.”
In other words, reverberating Lady Gaga – “It doesn’t matter if you love him or capital H-I-M; Just put your paws up – Cause you were born this way, baby…” The “born this way” theory is the ultimate in retreat options. For, if you buy into it – there is literally nowhere else to go. Thus, you have to make the best of it, in lesbians, the counter-reaction propels them towards inclusion, domesticity, and possessiveness. Though essentially female attributes, but with lesbianism, they become shrill, unbalanced and neurotic. In men, there is an opposite reaction as burned out homosexuals who decide to couple-up or marry, while precipitously leaving the bedroom door open to casual friends and acquaintances, often realize too late that so-called gay monogamy is no protection from the unchecked male sexual drive or from the tenacity of HIV; today, the majority of HIV infections among gay men take place in so-called stable relationships. Yet, according to the Spiritual Friendship group, the only other option is gay chastity – which will keep everyone endlessly pining for a same-sex “friend.” Both options are really non-options for they are equally crippling as each perpetuates the invasive soul-ties to the gay fraud.
Therefore, gay marriage and the Spiritual Friendship group, I think are both reactionary movements, based on fear – one seeks safety inside the fantasy of a reimagined gay world of rampant same-sex monogamy, the other, in being a “gay” Catholic.
What I am seeing now – from the millennials, who are the next generation after both my Generation X and the Y2K of the Spiritual Friendship group, is that they have rejected this paradigm; they go into gay without fear and without trepidation; but this is primarily because the continuing AIDS nemesis has been deliberately eradicated from the conversation – reminds me of the ultimate scene from the 1956 version of “The Ten Commandments” when the Pharaoh Seti lugubriously announces that the name of Moses is to be stricken from every monument in Egypt. Later, Moses returns, and the culture under Seti’s successor, Ramses, is dominated by these massively pretentious, and incredibly shallow, architectural facades; gay culture is similar, in that it has built itself up with these superfluous court successes, but, in reality, its artificially propped-up by a bloated self-interested bureaucracy, and by antibiotics and antiretrovirals. In reality, its teetering –suffering from a crisis of self. Unlike heterosexuality, there is no inner source of life. There is only the pervasive certainty of loneliness.
In the year 2000, only a few months after nearly dying following a particularly rough night of gay sex, by strange circumstances that I couldn’t begin to understand – I found myself locked away inside a French Benedictine monastery. Almost instantaneously, I went from kneeling before a line of naked men in a San Francisco gay dungeon to kneeling at the altar rail in a Romanesque church.
Only, it was also remarkable because I had been the boy who grew up with the hippie-Jesus, the folk-guitar Mass, and listening to priests who repeatedly told me – “…you were born gay.” When I grew up, I made all the wrong decisions: I believed those priests and immediately went to discover my destiny in a “gay” disco; when I didn’t find it – I looked everywhere else: in gay porn, gay monogamy, and then within the most desolate hole of hell.
I was the “prodigal son” who slept with pigs – I thought there was no redemption for me; but, the Father welcomed the stinking soiled wretch back home.
When I walked into the Castro District in 1988 at age 18, despite the ever-present ooze of AIDS, it was the all-male paradise of my dreams. It was a place where everyone accepted me, and, if I had to risk my life to be held by another man, I was more than willing to stick the barrel of a gun in my mouth.
When I finally made my way to France – I was sick, afraid, and desperate. After years of abusing my body, I had been reduced to a limping emaciated mess with a prolapsed anus; I was also disconcerted to the point of terror, for I had grown up thinking that Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” was the height of liturgical music, but now I was trying to learn Gregorian chant; however, I did it because I was hopeless – I had nowhere else to turn as everything I had tried thus far was a miserable failure.
Then, everything changed in my life on a single night. Once Vespers (Evening prayer) was over, the doors of the monastery chapel were locked and only the monks and the male over-night visitors remained within the enclosure: with the black robed Benedictines inside the cloister and behind the grill in their choir stalls, and the outside visitors only walking through certain corridors to and from the guest-house.
Following the last prayer of the day, Compline, I was at first shocked when the gates separating the choir from the congregation were opened and the monks streamed out into the enveloping near pitch black darkness of the chapel. Watching from a distance, I sat mesmerized in a pew as the barely discernable figures knelt down on the cold stone floor around an ancient statue of the Madonna. The only illumination was from the flickering orange flames of a votive candle rack.
Needing to witness what was happening, I got up from my safely secluded spot and approached the group of men; at first, I hid behind a pillar and intermittently peered out. What I saw was a beautiful vision: the faces of the monks.
First of all, these religious men were all incredibly handsome in the most naturally robust and masculine way: they ate little to no meat, were muscular, but lithe from working in the fields and in the monastery pottery shop, they wore their hair nearly shaved to the scalp, they constantly appeared focused, yet they looked at me with silent compassion every time I moodily walked by them; I never spoke to them, and they never spoke to me – only, on Easter Sunday, when the rule of silence was briefly lifted, they greeted me as if I were an old long-lost friend.
But, on that desolate night in the chapel, when I was wondering what on earth I was doing there, for the first time – I saw the beauty of man without the ever present pangs of jealousy, longing, or lust. When I saw the faces of the monks faintly outlined in the candle light, they became angelic icons of human potentiality – and of my own potential.
My whole life, I stood outside of the realm of men, constantly looking and adoring them from afar. I thought, they were what I needed: to be held by a man and to hold a man – would somehow make me complete. Yet, in that chapel, that night, I looked over my shoulder at what preoccupied the near blissful concentration of each and every one of these men: it was the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child.
For a few moments, I just stood there; leaning against the massive stone pillar and then unconsciously I began to slide to my knees. I looked at the statue, and I looked back at the exquisite faces of the monks – their gaze never wavered. I dropped my head to the floor and began to weep. At last, God had given to me what I always wanted: a place among men. Instead of my deepest yearnings being endlessly preoccupied with an inner need for human love, that never quite got met, all the pain of my life, all the disappointments, and all the unfulfilled ambitions were joined with these silently praying men and subsequently given to Our Lord Jesus Christ. While I didn’t know these men, I didn’t know of their own past lives or personal struggles, but in prayer we were joined like warriors on the battlefield: the feeling of comradery was immediate and wholly satisfying. For, this was not an all-male grouping based on sex or sexual preference; we were not looking for what we could receive from the other: but what we could give to God – and, as a result, what we could give to the world.
The rejection from men that I had felt nearly my entire life – was healed, and it was over.
Addendum Part 2:
A remarkable 1961 photography book by Jack Engeman, “The Catholic Priest – His Training and Ministry,” is a stunning testament to the pre-Vatican II world of American Catholicism – namely because it preserves a picture record of seminary and priestly life before the upheaval of the 1960s.
Two of the most exquisite photographs in the book, in a section illustrating the daily life of religious formation for men aspiring to the priesthood, depict young seminarians kneeling before various statues of Our Lady. These photographs are vitally important for those men experiencing same-sex attraction because they affirm my experiences in France: namely, that the collective love of men, united in prayer, can overcome either the need for homogenital activity or the even deeper longing for special friendships and peculiar comforts.
Now, this does not mean that every person with same-sex attraction, must live a hermetic life, but it does offer another route for true and lasting healing: that in the world of men, and I mean heterosexual males, there is the key to our resolution. For we must decisively break from our own preconceived gender tropes, primarily that due to some supposed innate disposition we do not belong in the wider circle of masculinity, except where it pertains to the hyper-inflated or passively neutral gay versions. In doing so, we are reoriented, as I was in the French Benedictine Monastery, away from looking at the seeming other, the enticing and painfully dismissive fortress of men, and towards that which is authentically transcendent – God.
Because, when we incessantly think of ourselves as “gay,” even though we may be chaste – we continue to perceive ourselves in that context, and then, it will shape our relationships. When we are so fixated, Melinda Selyms is totally correct: no amount of prayer to the Virgin will make it disappear. But, when we take the chance, and let go of our fears, when we recognize homosexuality for what it is: a massive lie from hell that continually keeps men huddled and prostrated in front of a very different deity than the one I saw the monks kneeling around in France. Once, we admit that to ourselves, that we were deceived: then, and only then, can we become the men God created us to be.
“Paradigm shift for HIV prevention in the United States”
AIDScience Vol. 2, No. 10, May 2002
“Changing Epidemiology of HIV/AIDS in the United States: Implications for Enhancing and Promoting HIV Testing Strategies”
Kevin A. Fenton
Clin Infect Dis. (2007) 45 (Supplement 4)
“Prevalence of HIV Infection and Predictors of High-Transmission Sexual Risk Behaviors Among Men Who Have Sex With Men”
Sandra Schwarcz, MD, MPH, et al.
Am J Public Health. 2007 June
“Nearly 70% of HIV+ MSM are estimated to have contracted HIV from a main partner…Our data suggest that reported monogamy may sometimes reflect intent or a non-traditional definition of monogamy rather than engagement in sex with only one partner. Nearly a quarter of men who indicated that they had only had sex with their partner for the duration of their relationship also reported engagement in anal sex with at least one non-main partner in the past 90 days. This supports previous research showing ‘monogamy’ to be an ambiguous term…”
“Open, Closed, or In Between: Relationship Configuration and Condom Use among Men Who Use the Internet to Seek Sex with Men”
Sonya S. Brady, et al.
AIDS Behav. 2013 May; 17(4): 1499–1514.
“(64%) described agreements that, to varying degrees, allowed sex with outside partners. Most of those couples described agreements that were neither completely closed nor completely open, testifying to the overlap and fluidity of the different types of agreements reported by participants. What distinguished them, however, were the conditions couples placed on whether or not sex with outside partners was allowed and how those conditions limited sexual behavior. Two conditions emerged most frequently: opening up the relationship for threesomes and separating physical from emotional intimacy with outside sex partners.”
“Sexual Agreements among Gay Male Couples”
Colleen H. Hoff, PhD, and Sean C. Beougher, MA
Arch Sex Behav. 2010 Jun; 39(3): 774–787.