I’d like to take the opportunity that this incident affords to discuss hypocrisy, ignorance, promiscuity, and what a number of Catholic gay men have identified as “the love that is the center of Catholic Christianity.”
Are we all sitting comfortably? Good, then let’s begin!
According to the Associated Press, “[Senator Larry] Craig entered his plea several weeks after an undercover police officer arrested him and issued a complaint that said the three-term senator had engaged in actions ‘often used by persons communicating a desire to engage in sexual conduct.’ The airport incident occurred on June 11. Craig signed his plea papers on August 1, and word of the events surfaced Monday. The senator issued a statement Monday night that said, ‘In hindsight, I should have pled not guilty.’”
Why then didn’t he, I wonder?
Now, under fire from leaders of his own party, Craig yesterday said that the only thing he had done wrong was to plead guilty after a complaint of lewd conduct in the airport men’s room. Furthermore, he declared: “I am not gay. I never have been gay.”
Oh, really!? What then to make of Dan Popkey’s investigative piece for The Idaho Statesman – one which unearths some telling insights into the senator’s long rumored closeted sexual netherworld?
According to a recent post at Pam’s House Blend, “the most serious finding by the Statesman was the report by a professional man with close ties to Republican officials. The 40-year-old man reported having oral sex with Craig at Washington’s Union Station, probably in 2004. The Statesman also spoke with a man who said Craig made a sexual advance toward him at the University of Idaho in 1967 and a man who said Craig ‘cruised’ him for sex in 1994 at the REI store in Boise.”
I appreciate blogger Mike Roger’s observations on this whole debacle: “Senator Craig’s situation,” says Rogers, “is exacerbated by the fact that he has a voting record that is counter to the interest of lesbian and gay Americans. All too often, closeted men like Senator Craig use their voting record to hide their truth from the American people.”
“The Minnesota arrest is not a one-time occurrence,” says Rogers. Accordingly, “What’s troubling about this is Larry Craig’s hypocrisy: he repeatedly votes against the gay community during his day job, while engaging in same-sex encounters as extra curricular activity.”
Yes, yes, it’s all very sordid and pathetic, I know. Yet according to Terry Nelson of the Abbey Roads blogsite, Craig’s story also serves to “raise awareness” of “what gay sex is all about,” and what it is that “gays actually do – often in public.”
In the comments section of his post on Senator Craig’s travails, Nelson remarks that “there is no redeeming value to homosexual sex - aside from personal sexual gratification” [What!? Terry Nelson believes personal sexual gratification is “redeeming”? You can be sure he’ll be rewriting that part of his comment]. He goes on to pontificate that “when we support gay marriage, and the gay lifestyle [codeword in Nelson’s world for “promiscuity”], we are in effect supporting aberrant sexual behavior - in public and semi-private spaces.” [So when it occurs in private it’s not “aberrant”?]
My sense is that Nelson considers any sexual activity outside of heterosexual Christian marriage to be morally wrong and largely indistinguishable from promiscuous behavior. If this is the case, why the intensity of his writings on gay men? After all, there’s a lot more straight people engaging in sex outside of marriage then there are gay people doing their thing. Furthermore, within Catholicism, over 90% of heterosexual married couples use contraceptives - another big no-no according to the Vatican. Yet despite this, it’s gays - and gay men, in particular - that are, more often than not, the object of Nelson’s scorn and condemnation. Indeed, like a number of so-called “traditionalist Catholics,” he seems positively fixated on demonizing gay male sexual activity by reducing it solely to acts of desperation and/or promiscuity.
As I’ve noted in a previous post, when it comes to gay male sexuality, Nelson seems only able to think in terms of extremes: celibacy and promiscuity. What he and others seem to conveniently forget is that most gay men (indeed, most people – regardless of orientation) live their lives quite happily and productively somewhere in between such extremes.
Nelson, of course, takes his cues from the Vatican – that bastion of reactionary ideology and hothouse of repressed (and thus distorted) male sexual desire - much of it undoubtedly gay. And according to the Vatican, the sexuality of gay people is “intrinsically disordered,” i.e., ordered by its very nature to chaotic and destructive ends.
I read official church documents that reflect such views and think: are these guys speaking from their own repressed and distorted experience? With whom do the writers of such documents confer so as to come up with such ignorant and dehumanizing statements? Clearly not with actual gay people who are accepting of and at peace with their sexuality.
Promiscuity does, of course, exist in the gay world – just as it does in the heterosexual world. I therefore think it’s worth reflecting on author Thomas Stevenson’s observations about gay men and promiscuity.
Stevenson interviewed a number of Catholic gay men for his book, Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men, and as a result, contends that gay men’s difficulty to love through their sexuality (a difficulty resulting from growing up with their homosexuality unloved), intertwined with a natural sexual desire, may help explain their experiences of promiscuity.
Of course, “promiscuity” is a relative thing. I’m a gay man who respectfully dissents from the Vatican’s claim that all gay people are called to lifelong celibacy, and who, accordingly, is open to experiencing a loving and sexual relationship with another of the same gender and with whom I experience a mutual sense of attraction and connection. Indeed, I have experienced such relationships. As a result, I’d no doubt be considered “promiscuous” by orthodox watchdogs like Nelson. Yet in the eyes of one of my gay friends who is into much more casual (and thus frequent) sexual encounters, I’m practically a virgin!
Clearly, distinctions can be made when discussing sexual activity and “promiscuity.”
In his book, Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men, Stevenson deftly explores such distinctions. Following are excerpts from his book that focus on this exploration:
Some of our witnesses point to situations in which anonymous sex, bathhouse sexual encounters, or one-night stands can be positive. Other of our witnesses emphasize the dangers of losing oneself or disrespecting others in promiscuous sex.
Underlying this apparent conflict on the surface, however, is perhaps a common ground, and that is the concern for sexuality taking place within a personalized context. Perhaps the concern for a personal, rather than impersonal, attitude toward sexuality is voiced more strongly in our witnesses who lean toward being critical of promiscuous behavior. Nevertheless, can we categorically say that all so-called promiscuous behavior is lacking in personal relating?
Can goodness be found in some occasions of casual sex?
Can there be one-night stands where bonding and transcendence occur?
Is there room for choices, which may be more or less personal, within the context of sexual relating in a bathhouse?
No doubt, a greater degree of personal relating can take place more commonly within the context of a growing committed relationship. But that is not to say, categorically, that personal relating can never take place within so-called promiscuous behavior, notwithstanding the very prevalent dangers of depersonalization that so often surround and happen with promiscuous behavior.
Perhaps another way to speak of the distinction being made about promiscuity is to say, in a manner that will appear tautological, that there is a difference between losing oneself and losing oneself. On the one hand, our witnesses are concerned with the ways in which promiscuous behavior can leave one with a sense of emptiness, or destroy one’s self respect or even one’s life. These are very real possibilities of losing oneself. On the other hand, there is the losing of oneself in an ecstasy of giving and receiving persons.
Whereas the first way of losing oneself tends to lead, in matters of degrees, to nothingness, the second tends to lead, in matters of degrees, to fullness and bliss. (But then, approaching things from yet another angle, it can happen that in taking the path of pursuing empty relating, one realizes one’s need for redemptive love. Alas, all roads can lead to God).
Now I realize that, for some, such thoughts and questions are highly controversial. Yet such questions and the discussions they can facilitate arise from human experience – the raw material, if you like, of all theological musings and articulations. Accordingly, they are valid and important questions, though ones that are not being engaged by the leadership of the Catholic Church. Indeed, even the discussion of such questions at the grassroots level of the Church is frowned upon and frequently discouraged.
Why is this the case?
What is it about our Church structure and teaching that discourages and prevents open discussion on such questions?
A Lack of Love
Elsewhere in his book, Stevenson is adamant that the distinction between personal and impersonal forms of sexual behavior alone does not adequately address the ways gay men have so often been bound to or frozen in more impersonal forms of sexual behavior.
He goes on to outline the following theory:
As a direct consequence of the profound lack of love for their homosexuality – lack of love from families, from society, from religions, from other gay people – the spirits and sexualities of gay people are often broken. As a result of this brokenness, I believe there are often two predominant, related, and calcified responses to sexuality in the lives of gay people. These are self-hated and despair.
As a response to the hatred of homosexuality by society, a homosexual person may, at some deep level, hate himself for being homosexual. [See Mitch S.’s and Greg P.’s reflections on page 57] . . . Another complementary turn is that of despair . The despair might be put into words in the following way: I’m not loved in my sexuality and I’m not going to be loved in my sexuality. Hope for the possibility of love is killed. The connection between despair and promiscuity could then be phrased as follows: Since I’m not loved in my sexuality, and I feel no real expectations that I will be loved, then I’ll just settle for less personal forms of sexual relating. [See Max B.’s and Bob S.’s reflections on pages 57-59]
Stevenson also relates social justice to promiscuity. Drawing from the insights of his witnesses, he observes that a lot of homosexual people are uneducated or confused with regard to ways of relating sexually aside from promiscuous behavior; that there are negative effects on gay people as a result of existing within a homo-negative culture; that self-hated and despair affects many homosexual people; and that “gay people have been inflicted with a wound of feeling unlovable around their homosexuality.”
The “impersonal forms of sexual relating that result from all these conditions,” insists Stevenson, “are a social justice issue.”
He goes on to envision the following:
Just imagine how different things might be if, for example, Catholic parishes and schools affirmed the goodness and lovability of people in their homosexuality. Not just religion and parochial education, but laws, public schools, and popular culture could all evolve – or perhaps continue to evolve, since in some respects they already have – in ways that would heal the wound of feeling unlovable and open the lives of homosexual people to more personal forms of relating. And given the naturalness, goodness, and lovability of homosexuality, it is the right of gay people to expect justice.
Love: The Center of Catholic Christianity
In the final chapter of his book, Stevenson offers concluding thoughts on the “sons of the church” – the “witnesses” – he had interviewed. I find these concluding thoughts very affirming and hopeful, and totally at odds with the narrow and ill-informed caricatures of gay men and gay sexuality presented by folks like Terry Nelson.
I’ll finish this post with Stevenson’s “concluding thoughts,” and a prayer that the love that is “the center of Catholic Christianity,” and which has been experienced and embodied by these gay men in their lives and relationships, may be recognized and celebrated by all within our Church.
Our gay Catholic witnesses speak of a love that frees them from the vicious circles of death and destruction for more life-affirming ways of being homosexual. Love is the animating principle for the ways of life. Love is the center of Catholic Christianity – the love of God for us and our love for others. When asked to encapsulate what is essential about their Catholicism, several of our witnesses speak of this love.
Our witnesses speak of how loving, compassionate affirmation of their homosexuality . . . frees them from the destructive denial, hiding, or fighting of their homosexuality. This freeing of themselves as homosexual opens up to new life that is marked by honesty, peacefulness, wholeness, and the experience of the naturalness, goodness, and giftedness of their homosexuality.
Our witnesses speak of how love enters into their sexual relationships. They speak of the tendencies toward destruction in impersonal sexual relationships and of being freed from such destructiveness for a new life of personal relationships marked by joy, sacrifice, commitment, loyalty, prayer, forgiveness, and a sense of giftedness.
Our witnesses speak of being freed from bracketed, isolated gay communities. Our witnesses are freed for an experience of community, Christian community, where there are no divisions of gay versus straight, or gay versus Catholic, or at least where they can meet the challenge of struggling for the healing of such divisions and for a justice that breaks down such divisions.
At the center of Catholicism is the love of God for us, this love of God in Christ and through the Holy Spirit for us that in turn transforms us for loving others and returning love to God.
Our witnesses return again and again to this Center, and in their consciences make distinctions about what is not essential in Church teaching, what, according to their lights, is not loving. They do not give up on this Center; rather they challenge from it. To give up on this Center, this Love which is salvific, would itself be destructive.
Image 1: Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, is seen during a hearing Thursday, May 25, 2006, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Craig pleaded guilty on Aug. 8, 2007, to misdemeanor disorderly conduct after being arrested at the Minneapolis airport. A Hennepin County court docket showed Craig pleading guilty, with the court dismissing a charge of gross misdemeanor interference to privacy. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Image 2: “Coming or Going” by Steve Walker (1996).
Image 3: “Street Scene” by Steve Walker (2004).
Image 4: “A Matter of Taste” by Steve Walker (2003).
See also the related Wild Reed posts:
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
In the Garden of Spirituality: Toby Johnson
Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men – A Discussion Guide
Be Not Afraid: You Can Be Happy and Gay
Trusting God’s Generous Invitation
The Triumph of Love: An Easter Reflection
The Many Forms of Courage
Thoughts on Celibacy
The Gay Old Party Comes Out
A Rich Laugh Fit for a Dame
What the Republican Leadership and the Catholic Hierarchy Have in Common
Introspection: The Remedy for Hypocrisy
A Humorous Look at Internalized Homophobia