St. Jerome Book Review: Gay And Catholic
As an undergrad, I remember scouring through the Hesburgh Library for books on Catholicism and homosexuality. One book I found on the twelfth floor was Homosexuality and the Catholic Church, by Father John Harvey. As a Catholic struggling to make sense of his same-sex attraction, finding someone with answers was deeply comforting, even if many of those answers (I later discovered) were derived from dubious Freudian anthropologies.
When I eventually “came out” to my friends, I found myself thrown into largely uncharted territory. “Gay and celibate Catholic” isn’t a common descriptor, and this can be both discouraging and burdensome. As Eve Tushnet once told her spiritual director, “Imagine if you were the only Catholic priest anybody ever met.” So I felt great comfort when I read Tushnet’s words of solidarity: “I feel it too.”
In Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith, published this year by Ave Maria Press, Tushnet writes about her experience as an openly lesbian and celibate Catholic. Gay and Catholic can give an eye-opening perspective, because most people—including most gay people—don’t know what the inside of this life looks like. Tushnet challenges both the right’s caricatures of same-sex attraction and the left’s caricatures of celibacy, and she presents an ongoing story that is quirky, intriguing, difficult, loving, and uniquely beautiful.
Part One discusses “Coming Out Catholic,” chronicling Tushnet’s journey from atheism to Catholicism. It’s a weird story, but somehow she comes off as a pretty relatable person. She writes with compelling thoughtfulness and penetrating wit. Her multidimensional story tells of struggling with alcoholism, making sense of sexuality, and pursuing community, where “our job is to be the kind of saint God is calling us to be, not the kind of saint we want to be, or the kind of saint our parents might want us to be.”
Part Two, “You Are Called to Love,” explores the meaning and practice of friendship, family, service, solidarity, and vocation. Her experiences of same-sex attraction and alcoholism give a nuanced look at a common comparison. She notes that sobriety isn’t the same as not drinking, and chastity is about more than not having sex. While she initially “thought that chastity for a gay Catholic was a purely negative rule,” her focus eventually developed into “build[ing] a way of life in keeping with my God-given vocation.”
She has pursued this vocation, as it relates to her sexuality, in a variety of ways: “[F]or me, as someone whose lesbianism often played out as a desire to serve and care for my girlfriends, I did find that pregnancy counseling helped to fill a profound need I had to serve women.” She also notes the importance of friendship in the Christian tradition, looking especially to ceremonies of vowed friendship once revered in the West and still practiced in Eastern Christianity.
Alasdair MacIntyre has identified one of the problems of our social life: that we do not “tend to have a determinate conception of what it is to be an aunt.” Likewise, Tushnet suggests we do not tend to have a determinate conception of what it is to be a friend, and we tend to underestimate friendship’s importance. Indeed, MacIntyre writes that “I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story … do I find myself a part?’” Tushnet’s reflections suggest that the real prior question is: Of whose story do I find myself a part?
For Tushnet, this question begs mundane, challenging, and all-important considerations: “We all need someone who sees our emergencies as their emergencies too.” Being friends with families “means accepting that milk will get spilled on your carpet, and your nice things will get teethed on and puked on. (This happens with some adult friends too, of course.)” Likewise, “You won’t get anywhere by hoping in silence, and you have to risk rejection in order to find friends.”
This book is important, both for gay Catholics and their non-gay (and/or non-Catholic) friends. It both reveals longings for love and friendship and suggests ways to respond to this longing. I wish this book had been around while I was struggling to understand my sexuality and my faith. I wish I could have given it to friends who wanted to know more about my experience. Though our histories differ—my college wardrobe, for example, never included hot pink fishnets, a tiger-print skirt, and a Boy Scout T-shirt—the same question keeps us up at night: How do I love? Read this book, and be challenged and changed by it. Have copies in your room to give to friends exploring these questions. If you’re in the Hesburgh, you can find a fresh copy on the twelfth floor (BX 2373 .L46 T87 2014).
Christopher Damian graduated from Notre Dame in 2013. He is currently pursuing a JD and an MA in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas. He writes as a contributing blogger on vocation, friendship, and sexuality at SpiritualFriendship.org.