When I walked into the Castro District of San Francisco in 1988, I could not have picked a worse time in history to come-out as a “gay” man. It was the height of the AIDS crisis. That year alone, over 4,800, mostly “gay” men, died of AIDS in the US. The following year, the number of deaths would triple. Far into the next decade, my seemingly exuberant life became constantly interrupted as I was forced to stand by when one after another beautiful and once boundlessly hopeful young man fell silently into the grave.
Some of these dead boys I knew well, others were but among the countless shadows that brushed against me in the dimly-lit nightclubs; a few, I could hardly remember, for they existed merely as a collected catalogue of the near-faceless men I had spent a few moments with. They were those I would sometimes anonymously huddle up next to. Acts of shared mutual desperation had brought us together, and inevitably pulled us apart. Often, I would only fully recognize them in death. However, none of us wanted it this way. None of us traveled to “gay” wanting to die, no more than those similarly beautiful and hopeful young men who one night went to a local club.
But for my generation, what brought us together, even in the midst of AIDS, was a collective need to be accepted; sometimes, by anyone. For many of us had grown up as lonely and scared little boys; unsure of who we were on a most basic level of identity. But, as a child of the 1970s disco-era, where “gay” icons emerged from pop-culture for the very first time, by the time I was a teenager and avid devotee of Madonna – I was no longer embarrassed by who I thought I was. Yet, with “gay” men, at the most – making up about 4% of the population, finding like-minded allies and friends, especially in a relatively small town, was not an easy endeavor.
So, when I turned 18, with the sonorous masculine voices from the chorus of The Village People song “Go West” playing endlessly through my brain, I headed to San Francisco to be among my own kind. The first place I went to was a “gay” bar – a magical sort of place with a large dance floor crowded almost consistently with unbelievably attractive men. Earlier that night, walking down Castro Street, like a lost out-of-town tourist, the music of the Pet Shops Boys thumping through the air, drew me right through the open front door. Inside, everything I ever yearned for merged into one fantastic world of total happiness: the boy no one wanted, the scrawny kid who got knocked around, the sad little fairy who just wanted to play with the other boys, was suddenly the object of attraction; handsome and manly men bought me drinks and shoved each other aside in order to push up against me. Unlike the world at large, that I had just escaped – there was consistency and harmony here; there were occasionally some drunken and pointless arguments or fights, but, overall, everyone got along. To me, that was Truth.
Yet, apart from this public space, there were also dark recesses of the club, where men would often slip away to meet each other. Looking back now, I can see how desperate all of us were for love and acceptance, that the grinding against each other on the dance floor was never enough. Sometimes, these brief encounters left me feeling empty, but, just before, I had been alone, and now I wasn’t. Because these “gay” enclaves provided hope, that I wasn’t the only one, and that, amongst others who felt as I did, being “gay” made sense. We were looking for an identity, and the “gay” community provided us with one that fit. And, for a while – I was very happy. I was home, and I never wanted it to end.
But, it did end. Suddenly, although I recognized the always hovering reality of AIDS – it was something that happened to anybody, but me and my friends. Then people I knew began to get sick and die. It was random and quick. Some of us began to lose count. And I wondered why I was here; why we were all here. Had we been somehow marked for death? Was the unknown God of my childhood a ruthless overlord who hated us and wanted every gay man destroyed?
Those massive questions, while simply trying to survive the carnage – at the time, I could not even begin to comprehend. Later, when I was accorded a measure of calm and peace, I realized that everyone who walked into some gay bar or disco, or even a bathhouse or sex-club, went there because they had nowhere else to go. No matter what we did to ourselves, none of us deserved to die. Only we did, and, although we were terrified, we stayed put – where else could we go?
I came of age in the post-Conciliar Church of the 1970s. Then, a sort of seemingly benign indifference pervaded every aspect of Catholic education. This created a strict adherence to the subjective theory that all the long-held doctrines and teachings of the Church were inherently relative to certain individuals and situations. We were essentially told to create our own personal Jesus – to make our own world; and, that is exactly what we did. As for me, I made a “gay world and a “gay” God. When AIDS struck ever closer to me – I thought the God I created had turned against me.
The utter failure of the Catholic hierarchy in the US to swiftly and decisively clamp down on widespread dissent, specifically with regards to highly erroneous philosophies on homosexuality, became embodied in one man: Fr. John J. McNeill. In addition, there were other loud “gay” dissenters in the 1970s, namely Bishop Raymond Hunthausen, the late Fr. Robert Nugent, and Sister Jeannine Gramick; of the three, Gramick is still alive and active – wreaking havoc from outside and within the Church.
I will never forget a dear friend, one of the “gay” vanguards of the movement, who came-out in the revolutionary epoch of the 1970s, who repeatedly recommended, once he found out I had been raised Catholic, McNeill’s landmark book “The Church and the Homosexual.” My friend, who told me that he had once incessantly wavered about his somewhat overdue-coming of age as a “gay” man, he came-out in his late-20s, said Fr. McNeill confirmed that his reoccurring misgivings were unfounded. He pointed to something specifically that McNeill had written: “Human beings do not choose their sexual orientation; they discover it as something given.” He read aloud to me passages detailing McNeill’s contention that committed relationships between those of the same sex were as “holy” as those between men and women. Presently, he was in, from what I could tell, perhaps his third or fourth “steady” relationship. But, as I told him, my generation had grown up without any heavy lingering cultural, social, or religious hang-ups about sexuality; I simply knew that I was “gay” and knew where I belonged. My friend would die of AIDS a few years later.
I never contracted HIV, nonetheless I spent much of the 1990s on a constant cycle of antibiotics, trying, sometimes ineffectually, to stave off the endless sexually transmitted infections that kept coursing through my body. When I left “gay,” not by any choice, but because of the impending reality of death, I inexplicably, and almost immediately, went to speak with a Catholic priest. I explained everything I had been through over the past decade and how I wanted to leave San Francisco and the Castro. When I finished talking, he let out a sigh and said: “But, you were born gay, that’s where you belong.” He critiqued some of my methodology, that I had gone about being “gay” in a somewhat erratic and reckless way, and that I should try to “settle down” with one man.
Today, on certain points, many priests and prelates would agree with him; one recently said: “I believe people are born the way they are born and I believe that God creates us as we are.” But, even more disturbing is this statement: “For me, this inclination is a question mark: It does not reflect the original design of God and yet it is a reality, because you are born gay.” This is probably the worst sort of misdirected paternalism in the guise of liberal mercy. It’s an epic fail: while appearing to uphold Catholic teaching that homosexuality is ultimately not part of God’s plan, at the same time, they also condemn us to it – because, after all, we were “born gay.”
In an even greater self-destructive leap, immediately following the Orlando massacre, one Florida Bishop had this to say: “…sadly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence.”
This is decidedly not the Catholic Church and not what the Catholic Church stands for; although, I too, had to discover this for myself through trial and error. Like most “gay” men and women who crawl to the Church – we quickly discover that “pastoral” practices concerning homosexuality often depend on who you are talking to; this uncertainty in the priesthood can cause resentment, or a capitulation back to our “gay” identity – albeit in a more circumscribed form that sometimes embraces chastity. But, one thing I almost immediately knew – I did not want to go back. For, the Lord Jesus Christ had pursued me – and, on the night of my very conversion, I was involved in a scene so dark, it went beyond any of the comparably tame encounters that routinely take place in a “gay” nightclub restroom. But, at the last moment of my life, I was given a final choice, and I chose Him. But, shouldn’t the Church offer all “gay” men and women that exact same choice? Or, must we wait until death?
Yet, to some extent, the Church has contributed to the eventual death of some gay men and women, but not in the way this Bishop from Florida is proposing. For, it is in the laxity of (and abandonment of) Catholic teachings, not in their imagined harshness, that the Church is complicit. Because, in offering no alternative to the “gay” identity– this has not bred hate, but created outright rejection. Where the Church should be a defensive refuge from the chaos, uncertainty, and violence of the world, for many “gay” men and women, the Church has actually come to symbolize this chaos and disunity – even its hypocrisy, symbolized in the all-too-public spats and sometimes malicious disagreements among the prelates during the recent Synod. Despite what appeared on paper, the Church looked conflicted and confounded. The inability of some within the Church to present a clear and concise message on homosexuality has caused many to disregard the Church outright, and to turn to the only other world they know.
Unfortunately, some in the Church, like the Bishop from Florida, continue to make the same mistakes of the past, by constantly referring to us as gay, lesbian, transgender and LGBT; we are none of those things. We were not born “gay,” and we were not born damaged; we may have been hurt along the way, but, like the rest of humanity, we can recover and heal. We do not belong to an identity, we do not belong to a movement, and we do not belong to a group. So don’t talk to us as if we do. We belong to God.
Is there any one brave enough to show us the way?
I see the pictures of the dead, and they remind me of the men I used to know – who died of AIDS so long ago. They, too, thought that “gay” was where they belonged. When will the Catholic Church welcome these men? But, not with false platitudes about being born “gay.” We must be welcomed into the Church – with Truth, and with Love.
49 precious lives were lost in one night, but since the HIV epidemic began, an estimated 311,087 “gay” men with an AIDS diagnosis have died, including an estimated 5,380 in 2012.
The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a “heterosexual” or a “homosexual” and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life. – Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons
I led an outreach to west Hollywood from 2002 for more then 10 years, to the gay community there which gave me cause for concern as to the “body of christs” approach to the specific needs of the community mainly Gods love through christs sacrifice, but this message seemed to get lost along the way.
The method was simple, I set a table up by the bars on a given Friday night with various material, books cd’s & dvd’s, tracts etc.
It’s been on my heart to return but the material would need updating, many who’s testimonies I used have since returned to the lifestyle.
You input would be appreciated.
The Lord puts love in the heart for those he sends you too.
Thank you for writing this. I am so alarmed at the response to this by my gay friends – they view people like me as guilty as the murderer for being Christian and/or religious. The Church has got to get with the times. If we are going to oppose gay marriage, homosexual acts, etc., why can’t we treat it like the wound that it is? Why in every church bulletin across the nation are resources available to women who have had abortions, but we offer no such hope to our gay friends? We cannot merely condemn, we have to provide an option, a way “out,” an opportunity for healing. Otherwise, it’s just a “no,” which is received as arbitrary judgment, or conversely, it’s a “yes,” which is a distorted presentation of Catholic teaching with an implied or outright approval. God help us. There are dark times ahead for anyone who understands natural law or preaches the truth, but the Church must provide a cohesive voice and an ANSWER. The devil is in this confusion.
Hi. It’s a beautiful piece of writing and very moving. I was crying .
Raising a family is hard for many reasons. Especially in these post conciliar times and the cultural wasteland of post industrial/scientific revolution that has disintegrated a lot of intuitive cultural parenting practices that foster emotional comfort in the family. I think this was also a big part of why the church became dismantled as it did.
Do you think mothering mitigates the father/son relationship? From my own side I ‘m a huge proponent of natural childbirth and fostering healthy mother/baby relationships, as opposed to the overmedicalized masculinized childbirth of today and the recent past where the knock em’ out drag em’ out left a lot of women beat and bruised without the hormones they needed to bond with their baby sometimes outright disliking them. Eve n the pain of childbirth counts.
But I do know that as for you , for me, the traditional church in this new postmodern world has to prevail . It’s the only institution that can stand up for, rebuild, and support the burgeoning new families that at child number 4 5 or 6, cannot help but tend toward natural comfortable forms of being IF they are practicing their traditional faith and have adequate social support of similar type. Where new types of intuition and emotion can take form. It starts with the mass.
You may find this earlier blog helpful:
I was so blessed to read your blog post. It came up on my Facebook page. I’m so thankful that you now know the freedom, truth and peace that comes through knowing Jesus. You are created in the image of God and I can tell He has great plans for you!!!
I’ve really contemplated how to stand firm in truth and yet be very compassionate and gracious. I really do believe the loving thing to do is to warn people of the destructiveness to living outside God’s plan. It is never well received, but sometimes loving people means being rejected by them, insulted, or whatever. I just have to trust God to do the rest if I share the truth.
It’s very sad to me that false teaching has entered the church so much, in so many ways, even beyond this issue. It makes it very difficult for a desperate world to not be totally confused. I am a member at a Protestant church, and a pretty conservative one. I’m thankful that the Bible teaching at our church is spot on, never shying away from difficult issues, and yet very gracious and receiving.
Do you have any good advice on how to be trusted and listened to and where/how to approach the gay community in a meaningful way?
Joseph a great article. The Truth will set you free, Jesus is the Truth and when we belong to Jesus He sets us free. Keep up your good work in the Lord.
In Jesus and Mary the Mother of God,
I struggle with the idea that homosexual attractions and behaviors are only the result of wounding and that people with SSA seem to have no choice but to pursue the “gay” lie. If SSA is the reaction from a wound, then how is the inclination disordered? How can a good and loving God send people to hell for all eternity if they are just trying to soothe a wound and think they have no choice?
There also has to be a balance somewhere of taking responsibility for choosing to pay attention to, nurture and follow what we objectively know to be a disordered attraction. And choosing to act on those attractions is also a choice, a huge choice that goes completely against the Natural Law written onto our very hearts. When I hear that the people in that “gay” club had no choice but to be there…where is their free will? Where is the Natural Law written on their hearts?
I completely agree that our generation (yours and mine) were spiritually abused and abandoned. We were never formed intellectually, never taught how to strengthen our wills, pursue virtue, never told the catechetical truths. Yet that Natural Law was still engraved on our hearts.
My meager opinion is that Our Lord will have mercy on those killed at the “gay” club…they were born into a cesspool of a culture where all the people entrusted to lead, form and educate them lied about the evils of sodomy. It’s a tough wall to climb when everyone from the President, Congress, Media, all of your teachers, parents and even many in the Church lie to you and say sodomy is good and natural. With only the Natural Law on your heart as the sole buffer to the insanity…and maybe a few brave souls like you crying in the wilderness:+)
But as I noted, I think there needs to be a balance…wounded? Yes. But aware of the unnaturalness of sodomy? Yes too. Free will? Yes, although a weak one. Intellect? Not in good shape. I think us backing up the Natural Law truth in every human heart is the kindest act any of us can do for others. And reminding them that they will be held responsible for their actions, even if wounded. Many of us have been wounded, it doesn’t give us the right to sin because of it. But the Church could help us avoid it better when the wounds do come:+)
You may find this video helpful:
Thank you for your article. First, I wish to express my deep sorrow for those who lost theirs lives, those injured and to the families suffering from this horrible act committed in Orlando. May God comfort them.
I left the “gay life” years ago because the question about the salvation of my soul became so important to me. I also found this way of life to be empty and gave me the reason to surrender to God and to beg for forgiveness in order to be reinstated as His child. Thanks be to God for that.
The point I wish to make here is that I do not hear enough about the importance of the salvation of our souls while living the “gay life”. The truth is we all will die and the state of our souls determine where we will go, either heaven or hell. Thanks for allowing me to comment.
Great article. I too have found the Church unhelpful and priests mostly unwilling to teach the truth or self educate so they can. Our Bishop is one that ignores the issue. God created us male and female. Our bodies have a purpose ( we are our bodies) and they were made to express love. But they were created for
complementarity. People are wounded in this world and must be ministered to, so that they can find thier intended purpose and love itself. Christians are called to be visable signs of Jesus here on earth. Therefore they must love others knowing the Truth. Pope St. John Paul II says there is no love without truth, and no truth without love.
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