08 April 2013

To all men and women of good will, An open letter by a Catholic gay man

I am a devout Catholic man, in my mid-thirties, well respected by my peers in my place of work, in my town and in the social circles I interact with. I am also very involved pastorally with young people, in diaconia and in liturgy. I take my faith very seriously. I am also an academic currently doing doctoral research in my field of study. And I am also gay.

In our lovely island(s), our society has made great strides. Social progress, liberal ideas, openness and even, political correctness; these have become almost apparently the markers of a new more tolerant society. Both mainstream political parties seem to have accepted that society has changed, whether for better or for worse. Yet, beneath this superficial apparent sense of tolerance, there are still several layers of prejudice and misunderstanding fuelled by strongly-rooted cultural ‘fears’ and impressions based on collective stereotypes. This is typical of the stereotyped impressions of gay people.

About prejudices and grotesque images

For many people, gay people are intrinsically troubled people, with deep psychological disturbances. They must be callous people, always and only interested in sex. They do not know what faithfulness is all about, for they are lustful and only interested in unnatural forms of sex. And, I forgot to say, since they are so promiscuous, they must all be HIV positive. They also tend to be paedophiles. They are so militant and so fanatic. They want rights, rights and rights. They want to destroy marriage. They want to destroy the family. They feel they are better than normal people. They think they should be the norm but they are immoral and lack values. In short, they are what local people collectively call żibel. The most common but twisted image that ‘normal’ people have of gay people is that of naked lustful gays making an orgy, or kissing vulgarly in public (and in front of innocent children) and luridly making out in public during the infamous gay parades, we have all seen on television.

You might think I’m exaggerating and yet, I am not. I’ve heard all of these comments from the mouths of a good number of church-going Maltese Christians, who needless to say, did not realise that they were sharing such thoughts with one of the evil species itself! What these God-fearing people forget is that these grotesque images of gay people are hardly more than superficial and twisted images of the vast majority of gay people. We tend to forget that the ‘naked lustful guys’ and the ‘militant and fanatic’ gay people, or the transgender ‘queers’ are also human beings that have a soul, a heart, feelings and emotions. Each of them has a story and has had to face countless challenges and difficulties. We tend to forget that if some become militant or resentful, it is because society has thrown so much hatred and  umbrage that bitterness and living differently becomes a statement of fact, a mechanism of self-defence and an act of survival. For many heterosexuals, it is difficult to understand the extent of the trauma of discovering one’s own sexual difference in the context of an oppressive cultural mentality that labels us collectively as disrespectable people who cannot be trusted just because we happen to be gay. Despite the lip service of politicians and churchmen in favour of tolerance, the common mentality still looks disparagingly, as if it were a crime to be gay, of which the gay person is seen to be entirely culpable. The lack of tolerance and genuine respect and understanding has led many to become resentful, to become militant, to bunch up in a gay-ghetto mentality, even rejecting God, the Church and all of Christianity as it has not been kind to members of our species. My life itself has been a constant struggle, as I have battled with demons, within and without, that called me evil, sick, perverted and even incapable of sincere and genuine true love.

The very struggle for survival and for the acquisition of basic human rights have made gay people tough, and in the eyes of many ‘respectable’ people too militant and fundamentalist. I would like to remind those who call such people as ‘erbat iqtates li jagħmlu ħafna storbju żejjed’, that, it is thanks to these people that the silent majority of gays manage to get their voice heard and have managed to stop the narrow-minded majority from forgetting that these people too have their own dignity. While it is true that there are some gays who act promiscuously and irresponsibly, it might be very sobering to reflect that many ‘straight’ people also act in similar fashion and sometimes even worse. Yet, we do not judge the entire heterosexual stream as callous because a few act irresponsibly. Moreover, if we are true Christians, we would remember that even Jesus Christ recognised the beautiful person behind the apparent dirty façade of adulterous women and so many other street women. He too saw God’s child in each and every one of the people that were considered as ‘rubbish’ in Jesus’ society.  It is good to keep in mind all of this to keep things in the right perspective. Indeed, the vast majority of gays, the silent majority, are equally respectable people with whom you brush shoulders at school, at work, at the church, in the gym and playground, in the każin and not surprisingly one of them may well be your very best friend. Even the ones whose difference provoke discomfort in you, they too are also beautiful human persons with human dignity. If we do not believe this, then we should not call ourselves Christian.

Unfortunately, these were the mentalities that myself and many of my ‘species’ had to cope with in our teenage years as we discovered, much to our increasing frustration that we loved persons of our same gender. Throughout my life my greatest worry was and still is that as soon as I tell the world I am gay, my entire image of respectability would collapse. I am sure in fact, that I would not be allowed to work with young people, because of God knows what I might do. And if, I were to have a boyfriend, I would not probably be allowed to be active pastorally, because of the scandal that my presence at the heart of the Church would provoke. Indeed, most probably, my presence there would be interpreted not as a sign of richness but rather as a sign of corruption and rot!

In God’s eyes

Today, I thank God because I see things very differently. I consider myself even fortunate and graced by God for creating me this way rather than in any another way. For, strangely enough I am starting to see my homosexuality as a gift from God; indeed a special grace He has given me in all His bountiful and mysterious love. It is true that God sometimes loves in mysterious ways and that His love is also accompanied by suffering and persecution. For me, in fact, this gift has been the source of countless suffering and up to very recently I could not see it as a gift but rather more as a horrible thorn stabbing through my heart. Yet, this very thought reminds me of Our Lady suffering for the death of Her Beloved Son, the Son of God. That very thought heartens me and gives me a lot of courage to move forward.

For a long time when listening intently to sermons by local preachers (and not all necessarily priests) I heard talk of man’s fallen nature, man succumbing to sin and from it, the direct or indirect deduction that homosexuality is sort of part of the result of man succumbing to evil. God ordained a natural order of things and sin distorted this natural plan and that is why such ‘objective disorders’ such as homosexuality exist. I’ve heard this kind of explanation a hundredfold times and I also believed it for a long time. Others have previously claimed that homosexuality is a reversible disease or a form of psychosis with gay sexual orientation only being something superficial. While I personally do not identify myself with all of the elements making up the ‘gay’ way of life and I have not adopted a gay ‘lifestyle’, I still feel that the gay element is an indelible and important part of my being. It is rooted in me. It is no disease and above all, there is nothing superficial in my homosexuality. It is also something beautiful from God, a gift that in the words of Mother Teresa can truly be something beautiful for God!

When I look at God’s creation, I am overwhelmed with awe at the complexity and variety and colour in his natural plan of things. In his wonderful complex prism, there are no such things as white or black but a whole spectrum of rich colours and wondrous beauty. With God there are no such things as exceptions or abnormalities. Everything is part of God’s logic. Everything makes perfect sense. We humans, with our limited intellect tend to put things into categories, into white and black, and normal and abnormal. But God’s folly is wiser than all our wisdom put together.

This reminds me of a comment by a dear and esteemed philosopher-friend of mine who once remarked on the fallacy of Rene Descartes’ statement cogito ergo sum, ‘I think therefore I am’. To my bewilderment, he told me quite simply that ‘we are’, not really because we think about ourselves. Our dignity is not rooted in the mental categories we invent about ourselves. Rather, our Being is rooted in our existence willed by God. Our being is not dependent on what we think about ourselves. Using this logic in the context of heterosexuality and homosexuality I conclude that indeed, straight or gay, we are still all of us sons and daughters of God, made differently with great variety, but really and truly, with no objective disorder in some instead of the others. In this context, I find it hard to believe that God just made heterosexuals and we homosexuals were simply a cheat, an exception or worse, an unfortunate side result of man’s fall from grace. How could I see God as immensely loving if He pre-ordained me to be defective or disordered and indeed a side-result of man’s collective fall? I find it hard to put these facts together, especially when I keep in mind that God is love. Moreover, we are not simply an exception. Although it is hard to come by with accurate statistics, it has always been safely calculated that 10-15% of the population is gay. Are we still simply an exception?

Catholic morality and homosexuality

Catholic morality and theology has been mostly written by heterosexuals or repressed homosexuals. Indeed, Catholic morality is fairer and kinder to heterosexuals than it is with homosexuals. While both heterosexuals and homosexuals are called to chastity, only the former are given the option of pursuing intimate and sexual relations with their partners in marriage in an acceptable and respectable God-ordained manner. Homosexuals are not given that option. Theirs is a forced celibacy. Either that or else eternal damnation. What an option! To couch it in more humane terms, we are encouraged to live chastity in a heroic manner, because we are told that the way we love is intrinsically un-natural and that by living chastity we can become great saints! We are reminded that every Christian has a cross to carry. Ours is a life condemned to chastity and to the prohibition of giving ourselves fully to the one we love so intensely, while our heterosexual counterparts are called to do so in a perfectly legal and sin-free sacrament of marriage. We are told that we do not have the right to do so for it is anthropologically and morally unacceptable and that it is intrinsically disordered. Yet, unfortunately, it all boils down to one thing… our love is considered illegitimate, unnatural and even sinful. It is equated with lustfulness and with unnatural love. We are told that heterosexual love is open to life; ours can never be life-giving.

Yet again, I beg to differ. With all the immense diversity in our lovely world, I find it difficult to understand how God arbitrarily decided to forget all of this variety and restrict ‘natural love’ to basically one form of love, that between a man and a woman, a male and a female. Why create so much variety to then exclude all varieties for the sake of only one form? The other contention is that love between two men or between two women is egoistic and closed to life. I ask again, for a love to be life-giving, does it need to procreate a new offspring? Is that the only form of life-giving that is acceptable? So what about a heterosexual couple that cannot have children? Cannot they still reach the fullness of love? Is their love lacking, simply because they failed to procreate? I believe that even two men or two women that love each other intensely and faithfully, can still procreate life, though not in a biological form. Their love is not necessarily more egoistic than that of a husband and wife. Their love can still be as faithful and as lasting. I know of several gay couples who have lived together for a long time and they have done so with remarkable fidelity. Isn’t this fidelity and love creating more love, open not just to each other but also beyond, in the community? If it is not so, is it a defect in their love or in the attitude of the wider community that has failed to appreciate the depth and intensity of this kind of love?

Compassion and Truth in love

It is true Catholic doctrine and morality distinguishes between the homosexual person and the homosexual act. It encourages people to show compassion to gay people. While compassion is a welcome thing, it is not really what I look for in the Church. Compassion is good but it is not enough. What I ask for, what I pray for is truth in love. But what does truth in love demand?

It demands, first and foremost a genuine and sincere re-reading of the Holy Scriptures and the traditional lore that the Bible condemns homosexual love as objectively disordered and damnable. Yet, the Bible says so many things that if taken explicitly today can be shocking and out of place. Who would today condone stoning an adulterous woman, or even condone an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth? Yet, both are in the Bible and we know that even Jesus himself went beyond these rules and applied the universal law of love. Jesus does not say anything about gay love, although Paul does mention it in the Letter to the Romans when he condemns a whole list of vices including gluttony, adultery and homosexuality among others. Yet, have we really understood carefully what is being condemned by God? Homosexuality is mentioned in the Bible not in the sense of genuine and faithful love between two persons of the same sex, who in truth and in total sincerity are ready to love each other in the fullness of love – ready to give to each other agape love – total love and total self-giving. The Bible is not mentioning this type of gay love. Opponents and traditionalists would contend that the Bible does not mention that because gay people are intrinsically unable to give each other that kind of love. That is so untrue! The homosexuality that the Bible condemns is connected with references to incest (between a parent and a child), to pagan rituals in which sex between men was common and even considered as godly and to the trend in Greek classical culture where gay love was trendy and an entrenched way of life that reduced marital love to procreation and considered gay love as superior to marital (heterosexual) love.

Naturally, traditionalists and orthodox Catholics would emphasise that the Church’s magisterium has the responsibility of preserving the deposit of faith and indeed of ensuring that absolute truth is not hijacked by contemporary relativism. While I fully agree with the dangers of the dictatorship of relativism mentioned by Pope Benedict XVI, I am all too aware how sometimes absolute truth has been at times misinterpreted by the Church itself in its 2000 year old history. After all, did the Church not believe that the world is flat and at the centre of the universe, because it preferred to take the Bible literally? And didn’t the Church claim that anyone outside the Church was doomed to damnation? And yet on both these two accounts and on many others, the Church has realised that there is more than one way to look at things, while at the same time remaining ever faithful to the one true Absolute Truth. Indeed, I agree with the Church that there is one Absolute Truth and not a hundred small truths which one can adapt to serve his/her egotistic interests. At the same time, I consider that the truth can be seen from different angles, and whilst it remains the same truth, it can be interpreted or understood, or even perceived differently. Likewise, even the truth about homosexuality is not completely exhausted or to be found in an already final definite and infallible form in the Church’s current teachings. I believe that there are other angles that have not been yet explored. I believe and sincerely hope that the Church will someday soon realise and admit that she might not have always seen eye to eye with the Absolute Truth on this matter.

Conclusion

I conclude this rather long essay by inviting His Holiness Pope Francis and the local Church to open its arms to the many faithful Christians who also happen to be gay. We do not want just compassion. We want a genuine search for the truth, in genuine love. We want an opportunity for dialogue, for acceptance. We too are God’s children. We too are special people. We too have a vital role to play in the modern Church.

There are many of us, silent people in your ranks, who, like Jesus prefer to keep quiet and suffer the stressful condition of our being. There are others among us who are loud, resentful, critical and even militant who pointedly act differently because many in our society and in our beloved Church have chosen to look the other way, while we are persecuted and treated with disdain. While some of us may prefer to follow the example of Christ who carried his cross in silent dignity, others may feel that it is better to take up the proverbial sword and fight the injustices and persecution. It is not my place here to judge which path is the better one, though it is sobering to remember that Christ himself reacted defiantly to the High Priest’s servant who slapped Him in the face. Whatever the merit of our chosen pathways, I think it is time for the Church to look in our way and realise that we too are yearning to be part, although we cannot necessarily fit into her ‘heterosexual’ strait-jacket.

Like many other ‘straight’ people we yearn for something greater than ourselves. We do not want to destroy marriage. We do not want to destroy the family. We do not want to destroy the social fabric of society. We are also building blocks of this society and of this Church. Give us your hand. Listen to our calls. We are not against you. We are here in the core of this bubbling heart, and we want to be heard. We are not exceptions. We are also God’s loved ones. For my being gay has been His gift to myself, to my friends, to my family and indeed, to my Church. Ad maiorem Dei Gloria: For the greater glory of God!

Jienni-Huri

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