I’ve been going through old journals and emails in order to glean a few things for a book I’m writing. Today, I stumbled on an email I wrote in 2000 to a guy I’ll call “Dave.” I met Dave through a mutual friend I’ll call “Jessica.” Jessica’s love for us each allowed us both to confide with her about our attractions for men during a time where neither of us felt comfortable sharing it with many people at all. Eventually she connected us together so that we could talk about our lives and our thoughts. The email below is one of the first emails I sent him.
Here’s the email–with a few thoughts as a follow up.
Thanks for writing, and feeling comfortable to do so, even though it is “a bit awkward.” Like you, though, I too feel quite comfortable talking to you about this whole issue. I remember when Jessica first told me that you were her “friend who struggles with this.” I knew that I hoped at some point that we would have the chance to get together and talk about our similar issues. (I find it strange talking about the whole topic–it inevitably ends up being referred to by using euphemisms: issue, struggle, situation, etc. I guess it works o.k.). I have to admit I found it somewhat surreal that two of Jessica’s closest friends have dealt with the same issues. Long ago I became aware of the realization that whenever I encounter someone who deals with same gender attraction (no euphemism!) there is an incredibly strong identification with that person, and in a way, a strong bond, even if I never actually become friends with them at all.
I have seen that in the music world so many times–knowing people struggle with the same thing I do–I feel connected to them in a very real way, even though I have, for the most part, hidden my own struggles from them.
The commonality that I saw between you and me after Jessica told me made that “identification” quite easy, and right away I hoped that somehow God would see fit for us to have a chance to talk about this whole thing. I appreciate your desire and willingness to talk about it, Dave.
I really would like to know what life has been like for you. I’ve reflected quite a bit about my time in high school, silently struggling with this, feeling there was no one to talk to. I kept up the image of the perfect Christian guy, viewed as a “spiritual leader,” yet dealing with something which made life pretty hellish. How many times did I sit in church, and hear the pastor talk about the “Christian life” and feel like dirt because I was turned on by the guy a couple pews ahead of me?
I really would like to have a chance to get together and just talk about this stuff and to know what your life dealing with this has been like. I’ve longed for years to be able to TELL someone about it, and in the past couple of years, I have been able to tell some people and finally talk about it, open and honestly. I so often think back to my time in high school, and wonder what life would look like if there was an environment there which would have allowed me to talk to someone there, someone I could trust and who I knew would not reject me, but love me and help me deal with the issues head on. Hmm…perhaps that’s not fair of me. I suppose someone like Mr. Q____ would have been a good person to talk to, though I don’t know. But regardless, the common history we share, and the common friend we have in Jessica, definitely gives me reason to want to get together with you. I do hope we can be of support to one another, and I have no doubt in my mind that God does desire his body to work in this area. As I’ve reflected on it, I guess I feel that God has been at work in allowing us to connect through Jessica. If there no other reason that we get together and talk besides simply being able to say to each other, fellow Christians, that we both struggle with the same thing, then I’ll be grateful to have the chance to talk with you. And it’s good to simply know we’re not alone.
I’ve been praying for you ever since Jessica told me. I have to say I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with this in your life. I suspect you’d say the same thing to me! It is not easy, it’s been really hard for me, and it pretty much zaps a heck of a lot of joy out of life. And here is where God, I think, desires to see his body work: to journey together in the vagaries and struggles of life. C.S. Lewis spoke of friendships that begin with the phrase, “What? You too?” I think God sees fit to bring people together who are hurting often in the same way, to allow them to help each other along the path. “Bearing each other’s burdens” I think equals, or perhaps is the definition of, friendship. Though I won’t be premature and presume on the future, I will express the desire, heartfelt, that we become friends, Dave. Thanks again for writing me, and thanks for willingly allowing Jessica to tell me that it was you who struggles.
I look forward to having the chance to get together.
As I read this again, it brings back the memories of those difficult, lonely and isolated years I experienced for so long. I note how often I speak of “struggles.” It was a terribly difficult struggle to live with attractions that I didn’t want, didn’t ask for. It was a struggle living in the confused state of both wanting and not wanting to act on those attractions.
I can see the transformation of my thinking on sexual identity had already begun by this point. I think it was Andy Comiskey who first made the intellectual, theological and anthropological case of my sexual identity being soley as “male,” not “gay,” as I thought of myself often during my twenties. That transformation would be a topsy-turvy ride for a few years however.
I notice too how the terminology of 2000 was “same gender attraction,” but wisely, that term has faded into the background, in favor of the more anthropologically precise phrase “same sex attraction,” which springs from the acknowledgement that the concept of “gender” is flawed, as Pope Benedict XVI so wisely told us during his Pontificate.
Above all, however, I realize looking back on those years that it was no accident that Jessica was one of the first people I told about being attracted to men. I knew she loved me for me, unlike any other teacher I had ever had. She showed remarkable compassion in her life, and I think it was this part of her that opened the door more than any other. Over time, I learned that several others besides Dave and I had also confided in her about this most intimate of details. I know all of us who have confided things to Jessica over the years knew that she loved us, that she cared immensely about us, and that she was a safe person to talk about personal aspects of our lives. There was something tangible about her enthusiastic love for us that made us feel comfortable sharing things that were difficult to share with other people we knew. That is the kind of love our youth pastors, teachers and high school chaplains need to cultivate towards their students if they want to make an impact on their lives.
It took me until I was 28 to share this with Jessica, or anyone else for that matter, other than the people I talked to online about it. My counselor at the time was the first person I told, followed by my family. Soon after that I shared this with some of my oldest and closest friends, and since that point my life has been much better for it. But my life would have been easier if I had felt comfortable enough to share this back in high school with a teacher, or a high school counselor, or with my pastor and most of all, with my family.
The Church needs to create an environment where no child feels the burden of keeping their attractions a secret out of shame. In my email, I wrote the painful line of feeling “like dirt” in high school because of my attractions. The Church needs to create a safe environment where children can share this part of their lives and get the love and support they need, all the while proclaiming the good news of the truth of our true sexual identity as men and women.
In an ideal world, this should, and would happen in the family. The best people for kids to tell about this will be their parents. However, I’ve met and talked to a lot of children who don’t feel comfortable talking about this with their parents. These children range from 15 to people in their twenties. In these situations, the child will be looking for another outlet. We can’t control whether or not a child will tell his or her parents first, but we can control the sort of environment that exists within our Churches. We can control what environment and culture we create in our Catholic schools. Where the child doesn’t feel comfortable talking to parents, they will find the avenue that feels safest for them.
That can be the Church, or it can be someone online somewhere, telling the child things that are opposed to the truth, and opposed to human dignity. That’s where the Church can be, standing in the gap, loving the child who hasn’t yet found the courage to talk to his or her parents.
Then, with much compassion and tenderness, and with pastoral charity, the Church can bring the parents into the discussion, and together, minister towards, and love that child with the love that only parents and the Church can provide.