Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What Is a “Lifestyle”?

Earlier today, my friend Paula Ruddy jotted down some thoughts in response to statements made by Dennis McGrath, the Communications Director of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, in an
article in today’s St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Following are Paula’s thoughts on what McGrath refers to as the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender “lifestyle.”


The term “lifestyle” has become a pejorative word used to denigrate gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered persons. It’s a propaganda word, meant to segregate a group by its sexual practices and to exclude them from social acceptance.

Dennis McGrath, the Catholic Archdiocesan communications officer, is quoted in the St Paul Pioneer Press of June 24 as saying that GLBT persons who have “fully adapted to the lifestyle” may not be endorsed by a prayer service on church property.

Generally, the term “lifestyle” has economic connotations. There is the lifestyle of the rich and famous, the jet set. Their lifestyle is glamorous, not mundane. These are people who have lots of options in the way they live their lives. There is a middle-class lifestyle. We get up in the morning, get the kids off to school, get ourselves off to work, came home, make dinner, do all the things that need to be done and fall into bed. On weekends we play a little.

Middle-class partnered gays and lesbians have a lifestyle just like middle-class partnered heterosexual couples. They get themselves off to work, and live more or less decent, more or less happy, productive lives just like anyone else. Middle-class gays and straights who are not partnered probably live similar lifestyles. Their orientation is essential to who they are, but their lifestyle is not determined by it. Their sex lives are incorporated into a lifestyle that includes family life, work, civic engagement, religious practice and a myriad other cultural factors.

The Roman Catholic moral teaching sees same-gender sexual activity as “intrinsically disordered.” McGrath says celibate GLBT persons are welcome “in the pews.” They are obviously not “fully adapted to the lifestyle.” So the lifestyle must mean people who are sexually active. No one speaks of heterosexuals who are sexually active as “fully adapted to a lifestyle.”

The Archdiocesan spokesman restricts the term “lifestyle” to refer only to sexual practices when talking about GLBT persons. Why would he do that?

Does this restriction of GLBT lifestyle to sex imply that all sexually active GLBT people are promiscuous and lead decadent, dissipated lives? No doubt there are GLBT persons, just like straight persons, whose sexual practices are self destructive or harmful to others. The Archdiocese can’t be making that overly general judgment about all sexually active GLBT persons, but the suggestion is there in the term “lifestyle.”

When the Church uses the word “lifestyle” to designate same-gender sexual activity, it is saying that GLBT people are different from the mainstream culture, not only in their essential sexual orientation, but in all the other areas of human activity we associate with “lifestyle.” They are not people whose lives we can celebrate in a prayer service on church owned property.

Catholics can be ashamed of the Archdiocesan spokesman for being spiritually and morally obtuse.


Frank Partisan said...

Another word that was used, but not as much lately, was agenda. The gay agenda is less popular to use as a scare tactic.

CDE said...

All of this parsing of the word "lifestyle" seems rather disengenuous to me.

It seems clear to me that it refers to a mode of life which sees no problem with genital sexual relations between members of the same sex. Is it really so unclear to the dissenters? Or is it only unclear because it's a message they don't want to hear?

kevin57 said...

Yeah, renegade, whenever I hear about the gay "agenda" I want to know why I wasn't invited to the meeting where the agenda was distributed.

Anonymous said...

Dignity USA seems to be okay with the word "lifestyle" -

"The Defenders is a club for individuals who value and wish to celebrate both their leather "lifestyle" and their Christian spirituality."

See http://www.dignityusa.org/defenders/index.html for the context.

If Dignity can say "lifestyle," I don't see why the Archdiocese of Minneapolis can't.

Anonymous said...

Clayton, of course GLBT people live "a mode of life which sees no problem with genital sexual relations between members of the same sex" but the term "lifestyle" when used about heterosexuals includes much more than sex

It includes family relations, work life, religious life, what they do on weekends. Are these other-than-sexual activities not the same for homosexuals as well?

Can you deny that referring to sex only when talking about a gay "lifestyle" is meant to denigrate gays?

CDE said...


I can't legitimately speak for anyone else's intentions -- nor can you. I simply know that if I use the word "lifestyle," it is not meant to denigrate anyone.

I guess I am left wondering: if someone objects to the "lifestyle" language, what would they prefer instead?

And can the discussion move beyond nursing grievances to having a discussion about the issues at hand? I think this would be helpful, for both sides, if there is a desire for some kind of actual dialogue to emerge.

Anonymous said...

"GLBT people live "a mode of life which sees no problem with genital sexual relations between members of the same sex" but the term "lifestyle" when used about heterosexuals includes much more than sex."

Androphiles and gynophiles, bisexuals, and trans have no "mode of life" that can so easily be dismissed as having "no problem with genital sexual relations." That is clearly FALSE. Many people, including heterophiles, have immense issues with genital expression: It is called "kink." Or in polite society: paraphilia.

And, while no single aetiology has been determined to cause this pathology, surely repression of natural biological expression, the teachings of weird natural law theory, or even castration by Heaven's Gate personnel before their cosmic travel should give us all pause: Why is something so BASIC as sexual drive so easily subverted and perverted into kink?

Not unlike "food-pathologies," since food is BASIC to our constitution's survival, some queer messages seem to twist minds into very sick people.