If not for my particular faith journey, I might never have read this book. I started going to church at the age many people first stop. Campus ministry is how I met Gabriel, who blogs at Mudblood Catholic. His writing is highly philosophical and remarkably eloquent. I enjoy his writing because he is honest, faithful, a convert to Catholicism, and gay.
There are not a lot of celibate gay Catholic voices out there. Scant few have published their writing in any outlet. Gathering thoughts previously expressed primarily online, Eve Tushnet offers Gay & Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith, a book that is part memoir, part theory, and part self-help manual. The parts of Eve that are gay, celibate, Catholic, erudite, alcoholic, and hopeful converge into a book that is encouraging and rational.
I found much to identify with. Tushnet speaks openly and realistically about the challenges of celibacy, and clearly she think it’s worth the struggle. I appreciate that as a fellow celibate woman (albeit a straight one). It’s good to have an ally who recognizes the temptations toward despair, lust, and jealousy and the lessened accountability. It’s humbling to acknowledge that this particular ally cannot ever give up celibacy without giving up her faith.
Having underscored her journey toward coming out and her decision to remain celibate, Tushnet turns to our universal calling to love as she explores spiritual friendship in depth. Those were the chapters I found myself reading and re-reading. I still can’t quite wrap my head around it, to be honest. I can absolutely understand relationships between friends where they become honorary relatives. Those relationships seem to have been quite different in medieval times than close friendships are today, though. You’d be hard-pressed to find even the closest married friends who would put each other before their spouses and children.
Yet most people do marry. Thus, for people who are celibate and intend to remain so all their lives (for any reason), there is a big void of love to fill. There’s a huge chasm between a modern, friendship, “I desire your good” kind of love and a modern, marriage, “I promise to sacrifice for you until death to the exclusion of all others” kind of love. Tushnet considers various ways to approach filling this void of love while celibate:
- cohabiting best friendships (which are usually same-sex despite each person’s sexuality)
- covenant friendships (which are closer to something like celibate same-sex marriages)
- honorary family (particularly the live-in kind)
- radical service and hospitality offered by those who live alone
- intentional communities of single people, married people, and families with children
- sub-communities within a parish (ministries or faith-sharing groups)
- serving family members at home (by choice, not economic necessity)
In general, she promotes loving as a path to being loved in return.
“Not having gay sex and not drinking are things I can do on my own, at least for a while. Living out my vocation is something I can only do with the people I’m called to love.”
Tushnet specifically takes issue with the obsession over gay origin stories. Her attitude mirrors the “refreshing agnosticism” of the Church on that point. How people come to know that they are gay is not nearly as important as what to do once they know, particularly when they believe in a Christian sexual morality that doesn’t condone same-sex sexual relationships. I found that refreshing. I use a similar angle myself when people express regret over their past sins and past ways of life. (Sometimes that person is me.) Who you were and what you’ve done is not nearly as important as who you are now and what you are going to do. Focus less on undoing the past and more on building the future. That applies to all sinners (a.k.a. everyone).
Her overall tone was much more philosophical than I expected. I don’t think I’ve read any of her other writing, but by the pervasiveness of that point of view, I’m guessing that’s always her M.O. I’m impressed by her ability to balance that philosophical, rhetoric-mindedness with sincere humor and a down-to-Earth attitude. I could identify all of those characteristics in myself at different times. All people are multi-faceted, not just those who openly live in Tushnet’s particular minority.
Perhaps the best aspect of Tushnet’s book is that she tacitly reminds us that we all have terrible, chronic sins, and being gay is not hers. Acknowledging and managing her alcoholism seems to have taken more effort and time than doing the same for her romantic attraction to women. Finding a spiritual director to hold her accountable for drinking was more important than finding one who acknowledged and supported her as a celibate lesbian. We can probably all identify what others see as our biggest cross. In many cases, we can also admit that that cross isn’t usually what we feel is the worst. While there is room for differentiation among sins, it’s foolish to declare that same-sex sexual activity is the worst. We might find it repugnant, but on the good side of repentance, we find all of our sins repugnant. We all get the same forgiveness; it is guaranteed, and that is grace.
I received a free copy of Gay & Catholic from Ave Maria Press in exchange for my honest review. Many thanks for their generosity!
Advent Challenge: Perform an act of service for someone who lives on the margins or perhaps just makes you uncomfortable: someone who is gay, poor, a divorced Catholic, not a native English speaker, or an immigrant.