Identity, Desire, and Same-Sex Attraction

The following post was completed for a class assignment in ST 74, “Sexuality and Marriage,” at Mount Angel Seminary.

Introduction

But now, thus says the LORD,
who created you, Jacob, and formed you, Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name: you are mine.


-Isaiah 43:1


Hey there! Whoa hold on…you can take a seat.

Breathe in deep. Let the breath out.

Try that again.

We know you’ve been scouring the internet for answers.

Your brother

Your best friend

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Your father

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You

So we pulled together a few things you might like.1

Understanding Identity

“Who am I?” If you or someone in your life is asking this question, you or they are not the first. And you are not alone. We human beings have the unique ability to reflect on ourselves and to ask important questions. Animals don’t do this. Rocks don’t do this. Just us. Understanding our identity–who we are–is essential in order to know how to live and what choices to make. If we know who we are, we are able to know what to do.

In our world today, “identity” is often viewed as something we decide for ourselves. We determine what and who we are, and these can change throughout our life.

However, the truth is that our most fundamental and important identity is received, not decided or figured out on our own or by other people.

You did not cause your own existence.

You came to exist through the creative cooperation of your parents and God. Ultimately, God created you. He knit you together in your mother’s womb, and breathed a unique, unrepeatable, and eternal soul into you.

Who you are comes from whose you are.

If God is the one who made you, then He is the only One who can reveal your identity... And He has!

Your most fundamental identity is that you are a beloved son or daughter of God. You are part of the family. You are loved.

And God made you either male or female. Your most fundamental sexual identity is either male or female.

Your body tells you that.

“BUT WHAT ABOUT THE THINGS I FEEL?”

That’s a good question. Feelings are real, and they are powerful.

But our feelings do not change or threaten our most important identity. Our unchanging and unchangeable identity is our anchor through all the storms (both external and internal) of life.

If you experience attractions to people of the same sex, you are a beloved son or daughter of God.

If you experience discordance between your biological sex and your felt gender, you are a beloved son or daughter of God.

Our feelings are important. But our feelings are affected by all kinds of things beyond our control.

As you continue your journey of understanding yourself or someone in your life more, stay rooted in these fundamental facts:

  • God created you out of love, for love, and to love.
  • You are a beloved son or a beloved daughter of God.
  • You deserve to be loved, received, listened to, respected, and cherished.
  • The Church is your home. You are very welcome here.

Understanding Desire

In the midst of our many and mixed desires, we can come to the wrong conclusion that desire itself is bad. We know that our desires lead to both good actions (for example, doing something nice for a person we love) and not-so-good actions (over-stuffing ourselves at our third Thanksgiving meal). However, desire itself is not bad. It’s actually very good, and it is a gift from God.

Desire is what moves us beyond ourselves, outward toward others and toward the world. Without desire, we could not be in relationship with anything or anyone outside of ourselves.

If desire is a good thing, then why does it often lead to not-so-good things (like the over-stuffed discomfort and indigestion on Thanksgiving night)?

Although desire is good in and of itself, our desires are either ordered or disordered.

An ordered desire is one that corresponds to what is objectively good for us. For example, the desire for food is ordered because food is good for us.

However, a desire that is ordered in its object can be disordered in its manner. For example, the rightly-ordered desire for food (an objective good for us) can become disordered when we want an excess of it.

A disordered desire is one that does not correspond to what is objectively good for us. For example, a desire to eat rocks is objectively disordered because rocks are not good for us to eat.

Desires can also be holy or unholy.

A holy desire is one that comes from God and contributes to our holiness, whereas an unholy desire is one that does not come from God and leads to vice and sin.

For example, the desire to love and to be loved is a holy desire. Our ability to give and receive love is how we are most like God, who is Love itself. The desire to love and to be loved is a gift from God, and when we order that desire properly, modeling our love on God’s love, we become holy.

One example of an unholy desire is the the desire to hurt another person. This desire does not come from God, and it leads to vice and sin.

What about sexual desire?

That’s all well-and-good and clear-cut, you might be thinking, when it comes to things like food and vengeance. But what about when it comes to sexual desire?

Just like desire in general, sexual desire itself is very good, and it is holy.

God Himself created sexual desire, and He placed it within each one of us in order to move us outside of ourselves toward others in loving relationship.

We often think of sexuality as simply genital sexual activity. Understood more broadly, though, sexuality refers to the energy, drive, or capacity to be in relationship with another. In this way, our sexuality is our relationality.

There are, classically, four types of love. One of these is eros. Eros (or “erotic” love) is often understood as meaning sensual love which aims at and culminates in sexual activity. While this kind of love is included within eros, eros is bigger than simply sensual love. “The ‘erotic’ does not simply concern the ‘sexual,’ but every experience of beauty, such that the ‘sexual’ may be one way of experiencing the erotic, but is not the only way.”2

In Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, he describes this broader view of erotic desire, based on the thought of the Greek philosopher Plato:

“According to Plato, ‘eros’ represents the inner power that draws man toward all that is good, true, and beautiful. This ‘attraction’ indicates, in this case, the intensity of a subjective act of the human spirit.”3

Similarly, the cultural historian Christopher Dawson identifies “the erotic type par excellence as ‘the religious mystic,’ the ‘man of desire,’ like St. Augustine or St. Francis.”4

Eros, then, is the way we come to any interpersonal relationship, including our relationship with God.

In his encyclical entitled Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), Pope Benedict XVI states:

“God loves, and his love may certainly be called eros, yet it is also totally agape… Eros is thus supremely ennobled, yet at the same time it is so purified as to become one with agape… Eros and agape–ascending love and descending love–can never be completely separated. The more the two…find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized.5

Agape is self-giving and selfless love. Thus, eros finds its purification and perfection when joined with agape. One is drawn beyond himself toward the other, but he fully respects the other and selflessly pursues that person’s true good.

Christopher Damian provides a helpful image of eros for our consideration:

“Imagine a toddler crawling around in a field and coming upon a beautiful flower. The flower captivates the child, and he stops in front of it. That “capturing,” the thing that moves us, stops us in our tracks, and draws us beyond ourselves, can be considered the “erotic.” Eros is the kind of love or desire that draws us out of ourselves and towards something beyond us. But eros does not come to us fully grown. Eros needs to be cultivated into maturity.

“A disordered or immature eros always tends toward consumption, objectification, and destruction. So the toddler, because he has little control over his desires, might pluck out the flower and try to eat it, or crunch it up in his fat little hands. He doesn’t know how to take care of the beautiful things that move him. And, while it is good that he can recognize beauty, his lack of control over his desires means that his movements toward beauty will tend to be destructive. I think that this is the experience of most people as they begin to experience sexual desire in adolescence. It comes in the form of amorphous, powerful, and often frightening desires. Initially, we all experience sexual desire with a sense of lack of control.

“But someone who has grown and matured, perhaps learned how to garden, or at the very least learned how to give basic care to a flower, will see the beautiful flower in the field and stop, just like the toddler. But, unlike the toddler, he will not try to consume the flower or crumple it up in his hand. He’ll pick it carefully, so that the petals are preserved. He will bring it home and water it. Or, recognizing that it will live longer in its natural place, he may leave it there, return to it, and bring it water during the dry seasons. He might construct a garden around it. But he will resist the childish impulse to simply destroy it. And, in caring for the flower, in nourishing it, he’ll enable it to grow and live its own life. He will establish a relationship with it, but will resist the temptation to just consume it into his own life and destroy it.

“So, too, with the person of mature sexuality. His sexual desires will no longer control and overwhelm him, but will take shape as he responds to desire with a way of life that respects and cherishes desire’s objects. His desire can be transformed into tenderness and care, passionate at times, but always aware of the deep goodness and inviolable dignity of the other.”6

Church Teaching on Homosexuality

As we examine the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, we need to keep in mind everything about desires described above. The Church uses the concepts of ordered and disordered in its language regarding homosexuality.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses homosexuality in paragraphs 2357-2359. The first thing to note is that the Church begins from a posture of humility, acknowledging that the “psychological genesis” of same-sex attraction “remains largely unexplained.” Same-sex attraction is a very complex reality, and the Church does not purport to have all the answers.

Regarding homosexual acts, the Church states:

“Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered’ They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved” (CCC #2357).

Note the use of the word “disordered,” meaning that homosexual acts do not achieve the objective goods for which sexual acts are intended by God.

Regarding homosexual tendencies, inclinations, and persons, the Church states:

“The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition” (CCC #2358).

Again, the Church uses the term “objectively disordered” regarding homosexual inclinations, meaning that the desire for same-sex sexual activity does not correspond to what is objectively good for us as human beings. God has intended sexual acts to take place between one man and one woman within the lifelong partnership of marriage for the union of the couple and for the procreation of children.

Regarding the call of persons with same-sex attractions, the Church states:

“Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection” (CCC #2359).

Men and women who experience same-sex attraction are called to holiness just like the rest of us. We are all called to chastity, which is the right-ordering of our sexual desires in line with God’s plan for marriage and sexual activity.

It is important to heed the Church’s words that persons with same-sex attraction are to be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. In C.S. Lewis’ great novel, Till We Have Faces, the main character, Psyche, makes a point that we all need to realize: “Don’t you think the things people are most ashamed of are things they can’t help?”

The Desires of People with Same-Sex Attraction

The rest of this blog post will examine the desires of people with same-sex attraction, realizing that the desires involved are far more than simply sexual or sensual. The following reflections are the result of dialogue with both men and women who experience same-sex desires.

In an article entitled “The Curse of the Ouroboros: Notes on Friendship,” Joseph Prever, a man who experiences same-sex attraction, explains that he came to the realization that “the desire at my center was not perverse in its object, but only in its manner… feeling the desire didn’t make me a monster, but just meant that I was a normal human being who wanted normal human things, albeit wanted them in a nonstandard way. And finally, it meant that the desire that I had always assumed was unfulfillable might be fulfillable after all.”7

While there is certainly particularity to the experience of men and women with same-sex attraction, I hope you will see that their desires are not so different from everyone else’s desires. We all have fundamental desires in common because of our shared human nature and our shared vocation to love.

DESIRE FOR COMMITTED LOVE

The first significant desire to note is the desire for committed love. Listen to the song below, which communicates this desire.

The singer wants a love that will be permanent, that will weather any storm.

Refrain:
This is not a temporary love
This is not a temporary love
Now your heart is in my hands, I won’t give it up
This is not a temporary love

Verse:
When the world around is caving in
And the winds, well, they keep on changing
Take my hand and let it spin
We’ll hold still

What are they looking for?

DESIRE TO BE AT HOME IN THE CHURCH

Catholics who experience same-sex attraction desire to be faithful to the Lord and to the Church but to live authentically, without shame, and in meaningful relationships with others.

The following song expresses what it is like to be part of this “dying breed.”

One man with same-sex desires explained that this song “pertains almost eerily well to the experience of LGBT folks choosing to remain in the Church and living out their lives without shame and in fruitful relationship to others.”

Verse:
When everyone’s compromising
I’ll be your die-hard
I’ll be there when water’s rising
I’ll be your lifeguard
We’re cut from a stained glass fountain

Baby, we’re a dying breed

Pre-Chorus:
There’s gonna be opposition
We got everything we need Ooh baby we’re a dying breed

Bridge:
I don’t know what you want from me
Sometimes I don’t know what to do
It’s like I’m screaming in a dream
It’s like I can’t get through
What if we’re not prepared for this
What if we just can’t find the trail
And I remember the promise I made
And the way that I felt

What do they want from the Church?

A Shelter in the Storm

Along similar lines, another clear desire is to have relationships of support, encouragement, and safety in the midst of life’s storms.

Verse:
Ramblers in the wilderness
Yeah we can’t find what we need
We get a little restless from the searching
Get a little worn down in between

Refrain:
Brother let me be your shelter
Never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call when you’re low
Brother let me be your fortress
when the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way

Bring you home

Fierce, Faithful Presence

Chorus:
‘Cause I’m gonna stand by you
Even if we’re breaking down
We can find a way to break through
Even if we can’t find heaven
I’ll walk through hell with you
Love, you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m gonna stand by you

Ultimate Quies in God Alone

Quies means “rest.” Although we find rest in human relationships, we are able to find ultimate rest only in God.

“We do not find our final quies in another person, but only in a flight, prompted by friendship’s delights and disappointments, to the Self-same, supremely and transcendentally personal [God].”8

“You have made us for Yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You” (St. Augustine in Confessions).

God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–is the only one who can truly say these words to us:

I’m never gonna let you down
I’m always gonna build you up
When you’re feeling lost
I will always find you love
I’m never gonna walk away
I’m always gonna have your back
And if nothing else, you can always count on that
When you need me I promise I will never let you down

Final Thoughts

Men and women who experience same-sex attraction often hear only the “no” from the Church regarding same-sex sexual relationships without hearing the “yes” regarding their personhood, their good desires, and the whole-hearted life of thriving that is possible within the family of the Church. The Church needs to be home for people with this experience (and for all people). It needs to be the place where we can all wrestle with our restless hearts and desires, where we can be honest with the Lord and with the Church community, where we can be loved, accepted, challenged, held accountable, and empowered for authentic Christian living. The Church as a whole, but especially the local parish church, should be a place where all of us—no matter what our particular struggles are—can be weak and real as we strive to be transformed by the life of grace in body, mind, and soul. The Church (and her members) need to better reflect the heart of the Father, who neither condones our sinful actions nor abandons us to become perfect on our own. With the Father, even though we are not affirmed in our sins, we are always welcome; we are always loved; we are always home. It is our encounter—again and again—with His faithful, passionate, and unwavering love that ultimately leads to our conversion and ongoing sanctification.

Where to Find More

Resources for Learning and Support

To find out more about the Church’s teachings regarding sexuality and to see what kind of support is out there for Catholics who experience same-sex attraction, check out these great resources.

Eden Invitation Community

Eden Invitation Community is a Catholic ministry that seeks to provide community, accompaniment, and resources for people who experience same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria and who want to follow Christ and Catholic Church teaching. They exist to create spaces to receive the whole person, to grow systems of mutual support, and to empower for mature Christian discipleship.

Life Teen Blogs re: Homosexuality

Life Teen is a Eucharist-centered movement within the Roman Catholic Church which leads teenagers and their families into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church. With the Blessed Virgin Mary as our intercessor and guide, Life Teen seeks to unleash the fullness of the Sacramental power present within the young Church.

Chastity Project Homosexuality Resources

Chastity Project exists to promote the virtue of chastity through resources, media appearances, seminars, and social media so that individuals can see God, and be free to love (Matt. 5:8).

Should I tell my parents?


1 Introductory message, “Hey there….” adapted from the Eden Invitation Community

2 Christopher Damian, “A Catholic Perspective on Homoerotic Desire,” in Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, 22 (2019): p. 52.

3 Pope St. John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, trans. Michael Waldstein (Boston, MA: Pauline & Media, 2006), p. 316.

4 Christopher Dawon and John J. Mulloy, Dynamics of World History (Wilmington, DE: ISJ Books, 2002), 251.

5 Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2005): para. 9. http://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20051225_deus-caritas-est.html.

6 Damian, pp. 58-59.

7 Prever, Joseph, “The Curse of the Ouroboros: Notes on Friendship,” in Living the Truth in Love: Pastoral Approaches to Same-Sex Attraction, ed. Janet E. Smith and Father Paul Check (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2015) pp. 147-48.

8 Fiona Lynch, “Morality, Metaphysics, and the Romance of Friendship,” in Communio: International Catholic Review 47 (2020): p. 274.

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