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The Good Father: Of God, Doubt, and Gay Relationships

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Courtesy: Stephen Bradford Long – Blog

It’s been a long, painful and perilous journey from a life of suffocating fear and self-loathing toward a life of fearlessness and love. I spent most of my teenage and adult years trapped in the impenetrable coffin of my self-loathing, absolutely convinced that I was unlovable to God.  As a young boy growing up in the evangelical world, I somehow absorbed the message that being gay makes a person loathsome and subhuman. When I started to discover that I was gay myself, I became the victim of my own undying disgust and hatred. Like a supernova, my being collapsed upon itself, the object of its own unquenchable disgust.

I was trapped in that deadly pattern for years, and it was a pattern of immense self-destruction, volatile relationships, and crushing loneliness. What I want to talk about now is how that started to change, how letting go of self-loathing began a pilgrimage from shame toward learning to accept God’s love for me.

The year it all started to shift – my 22nd year – was a dark one. Not only were the demands of my music degree beginning to crush my spirit, I had also just gone through a bloody breakup with my girlfriend of nine months.

I had tried desperately to make our relationship work. I had convinced myself that my sexuality was, at best, an unpleasant memory from my past and at worst an annoyance that needed occasional maintenance. I was in deep denial about how much I looked at guys, how much I fantasized about them, and how much I was emotionally and physically attracted to them. Even when I almost cheated on my girlfriend with another guy from my college, I was still in denial about my sexuality.

By the time our relationship fell apart, I couldn’t live in denial anymore. I had to confront that I found men painfully beautiful and that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with a man. And, in my attempts to deny that part of myself, I had very profoundly hurt an incredible young woman who had been my best friend.  Despite how much I loved her, I didn’t want to touch her, hug her, kiss her. I didn’t want to hold her hand or be physically close to her. While I enjoyed her friendship and conversation, I couldn’t celebrate her beauty or femininity the way a man should, and she was left feeling broken, insufficient, wondering what she had done wrong.

I walked away from that relationship having realized two horribly painful things about myself: first, that my orientation was not going to go away, and that I had exhausted all attempts at knowing how to fix it. Second, I could never, ever put another woman through that experience ever again. It would take God writing it in fire in the sky for me to ever enter a relationship with a woman again.

I entered a very dark place. I again contemplated killing myself because, in my mind, anything was better than being gay. Every treatment had failed. I felt like I had completely exhausted all my options and there was nothing left for me to do but die. Even though I had left the ex-gay world 3 years before, I didn’t want to be gay – I was terrified of being gay. I was terrified of what that meant for me as a Christian, terrified that I was going to hell. Most of all, I didn’t want to hate myself anymore.

And then I met someone I’ll call Drew. Drew was another music student – handsome, intelligent, kind  – and I dropped into the free fall of a very intense crush. For two months I was under the influence of intoxicating romance. We went on a few dates and enjoyed each other’s company.

Internally, I was ripped to pieces. Everything I wish I had felt for my girlfriend I was now feeling for another man. For the first time in my life I was experiencing my orientation in relation to another gay man, but I felt like I had to sacrifice my soul, faith and belief in God to do so. I didn’t know if it was right or wrong, but I was afraid of even allowing myself to admit that, for fear of being expelled from the presence of God.

In my desperate search for answers, I found a little Catholic parish hidden away in a mountain valley. I started going to the parish because no one there knew me and no one would talk to me. No one would have to know about my relationship with Drew, my sexuality, or my questions. If someone started to ask questions, I could leave, because I feared that it was only a matter of time before someone would find me out and ask me to leave.

One Sunday morning, when I was at the end of my rope, I was on my knees during mass crying out to God for an answer. And then something happened.

I don’t know how, but I suddenly knew that God was there with me. I knew that His holiness was wrapped all around me, gathering about me like heavy smoke. In the midst of that holiness, I didn’t feel judged, I didn’t feel cast away – I felt safe. Safe for the first time in years.

And then, in the midst of this sense of very profound holiness, a voice deep within me said, Stephen, do you remember that time when you were in high school, and your father came into your room? Do you remember how he wrapped his arms around you, held you to his chest and whispered in your ear, “Stephen, you are my son, and I will never kick you out of my house. My home will always be your home, because I am a good father, and a good father doesn’t kick out his son. You are my son, and I love you.” The voice deep within me continued, I am like your biological father in that way, Stephen. I’m not going to kick you out over this. My home will always be your home, because I am a good Father, and a good father doesn’t kick out his son.

That was the safest I had felt in years. I suddenly knew that, no matter how I failed or succeeded, no matter how right or wrong my theology, no matter how many mistakes I made in my pursuit after Him, it was ok. I was still His son. For the first time, I realized what it meant to trust God with my sexuality.

In that moment, I realized something for the first time in my life: God doesn’t ask us to be perfect. God doesn’t ask us to have perfect theology. All He asks of us is to love Him, and to try.

Try to find the answers. Try to live a holy life. Try because we are already accepted by Him through His son Jesus.

That might mean asking scary questions. That might mean falling in love. That might mean being theologically wrong. That might mean having to re-evaluate what you believe for the thousandth time. That might mean getting heart broken. That might mean struggling with loneliness. That might mean finding the love of your life. That might mean being called to celibacy. God’s love is big enough. And in that love, there is space to question, to journey, to be confused. Jesus isn’t threatened by questions, we are.

The only reason I am alive is because, three years ago in a tiny mountain Catholic parish, I started to learn how to trust, and to cling to the Cross. I learned to trust that God is bigger than my shortcomings, my questions, my capacity for rightness and wrongness. I started to trust that God has tempered justice with mercy, and that mercy covers me even when my best attempts fail in both action and understanding.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s been a hard journey since that day in Mass. There have been trials and struggles and despair and heartbreak, but I don’t think I would have survived any of that if I hadn’t first learned that God is perfect and that I am not.

For too many people, the struggle with sexuality take place in a claustrophobic and fearful place. I believe that, through His love, God offers us space. He offers us space to journey, to question, and to cling to Him. He offers us the space to experience struggle as refinement and questions as worship.

Because he is a good Father, and a good father doesn’t kick out his children.


Tight Rope Redux …

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Today is February 20, 2017 … And we revisit the stories in the back of the book. I wrote on this story back in May of 2016, the last time we crossed this story in reading.

This read comes, inside of a new group of people, in a new year, and the shares generated by this read were varied. There are a handful of LGBT folks in this meeting. Both men and women.

In the group, now, there are two of us who are HIV+.  I did not know this before. And after the meeting I spoke to my friend who has more than 35 years being POZ, from back in the First Gen of the AIDS crisis in the 1980’s.

He is heterosexual, and has a wife and children. And comes from the Old Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York Crowd. I am the other. I am Gay, and have lived with AIDS for more than 22 years now. I now have a new benchmark to aspire to. Because when I first moved to Montreal, when I met men who were sick, all I wanted to know from them was how did they get further up the road than I was at. They are all dead now.

I don’t know but a couple of people, over the years, who are like me.

And I said again tonight to a room full of heterosexual alcoholics, that I would gladly trade my medicine cabinet for theirs or give them sickness for a bit so they can understand what it is like to really suffer with an illness that has no cure. Which leads back to last night’s entry about Re-Orientation…

So I am sharing the post that I wrote more than a year ago, because it says everything that I wanted to talk about tonight. The sentiments I wrote about still exist today in our rooms here in Montreal. So you stay away from those sick meetings and abhorrent people.

**** **** ****

May 31, 2016 …

There is something to be said about “tolerance for those with different struggles.”

Somewhere I heard that it is easier to ACT yourself into a new way of thinking than to THINK yourself into a new way of acting …

This line appears in the above titled story when our man gets to his first series of meetings, after a crash and burn drinking experience. He sits with his sponsor, not so sure about God or Higher Power, and the suggestion of “Act as If” comes.

This story, appears in the fourth edition of the Big Book. Our man, in this story, is Gay. He cites that he is three years sober, he had surgery on his back, his father died, a relationship ended, and the AIDS epidemic started to hit home among his friends and acquaintances. Over the course of the next few years, almost half of his gay friends had died.

This is a Fourth Edition story. Because of the time period cited above. It could be placed anywhere from the 1980’s through the 1990’s, for the sole reason he cites the AIDS epidemic, specifically.

This story and mine are very different. But the writer says, in the beginning, that he comes from a conservative religious family, where alcohol was present. And he had not “Come Out” until he was in college when he began to consider his sexual orientation.

A familiar story in the gay world, in the beginning, when considering whether to come out or stay in the closet, the many lives we live and the faces we put forward, trying to fit all the boxes, with what society says we should be. A business man, a professional, an alcoholic, a friend, and maybe a lover.

So for some, we play the “Straight game” and we play the part, until either we hit that proverbial wall of self discovery, and stop the denial and make the jump, or we remain in the closet hating ourselves and everything about us, because we are living a lie, that, in the end, will eventually, end badly.

I had to play that game, for fear of loosing my life, until I could not do it any more.

Hence the death march into Alcoholism and Drug Addiction and Suicide for many.

Our writer, grew up, and moved away and began attending college, where he began to explore his sexuality. By then he was already drinking.

I grew up in a home where alcoholism was the norm. I knew I was different well before I learned what it meant for me. But my father, with homicidal tendencies, was never my friend. However he had his moments.

I remember the night he took me to the 94th Aero Squadron – a restaurant on the airport runway system at Miami International, for my Birds and the Bees discussion. I could not tell him the truth.

My story may not be unique, but I never tire of thinking about it, and how my life would have been very different, had I STAYED IN THE ROOMS the first time I got sober. But that was not my experience.

Getting sober in the age of AIDS was difficult. Because I could not drink, I had quit. Todd had given me that ultimatum and made it stick. So I was getting sober, and learning how to survive, while all my friends around me were going down in flames. Every night, was as if they were living the last night of their lives, with the copious amounts of drugs and alcohol that went around under my nose.

They are all DEAD.

I think that when it came down to it, with the bar, and Todd’s influence, I had everything I needed. I could have done without the room I was getting sober in, because those men were not kind at all, and made the first year hell for the newcomers.

Having to compete for your year chip is much harder than working for it freely. Sobriety is NOT a RACE. There are no horses to bet on, just a human being trying to get better, under seriously awful circumstances. And this truth did not make it any easier, although it should have.

Then you move to a new city and a new room. And you get asked to speak. And after that event, a man walks up to you and says: “We don’t condone people like you here, leave this meeting and don’t come back!” W.T.F.

Obviously this story had not been printed in the late 1990’s, and from what I remember, not many of those folks, had even the Big Book in the room.

During this time, the preceding years and for many years after, straight people, straight businesses, churches, funeral parlors, you name it … banished sick gay men to the gutter and left them there to die alone. Awful Hateful Abhorrent Prejudice. 

That event in my early sobriety just killed any ambition I had towards sobriety.

To this day, there are hateful people, in our rooms.

With all that is going on in the world, we need all the help we can get. Rooms should welcome and be supportive. But that is not always the case.

Even today, being any shade of L.G.B.T.Q is perilous.

There is no room, in this world, for hatred of a human being because of their chosen way of life. I talk of just how fluid life has become, and how binary it has been for eons of time.

There are a handful of people I know in the rooms I go to who fall under L.G.B.T.Q.

Some are allowed, and nothing is said, then there are those, who, for one reason or another, come and go, and many of them are back out there drinking, because of intolerance and stupidity.

Here is the kicker in this story …

In all the service positions our man held (GSR) and others, He never felt obligated to conceal or deny his sexuality. He says… I always felt that the representatives of the groups in my area were concerned only with HOW we carried the message of recovery, NOT with what I might do in my personal life.

Only if that were reality for ALL meetings in general.

It is not…


Monday: Seasons – Who Are We ?

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Tonight we read another “Woman’s Story.” Because I am an Alcoholic, was written by our writer, in the 1950’s. By the end of the story, we find out that she is also 28 years sober, at the time of penning her story.

Trying to find out “Who We Are?” is a question that I think is universal, and not uniquely  an alcoholic problem.

For every man or woman in the room, there is a story about who they thought they were as kids, then progressing throughout their lives, to the point they drank trying to figure it out, and finally coming to the rooms, where FINALLY, we figured that out.

In the end our lady found out that she was gay, she moved from the city to the country, and built a garden, where she found peace and serenity.

For me, I knew I was gay which was why I had to leave home. And the one bit of advice I took as gospel was that … “In order to be part of you had to drink…”

That was SOOOOO Wrong !

There were several point in her story that I identified with. Her life began in the country and a solitary childhood and her imaginary friends, then moving to a big city, where she encountered other kids, she still felt apart from, different.

Her odyssey of alcoholism took her all over the world, looking for connection and inclusion. But those tell tale signs, the massive drinking bouts, and black outs and not knowing what she did the night before, began to haunt her.

In her mind though … She just could not be an alcoholic.

Through a series of unfortunate, or maybe fortunate events, in the presence of her therapist and friends, she came around to see that actually, she WAS an alcoholic.

How many of us, just don’t see it while we were IN IT. How many of us came around at first, thinking that “I could not be an alcoholic!” How much time did we sit in the rooms trying to figure it out, justifying our habitual drinking, until we could not fight it any more.

We hear those same words again: Fear, Guilt, Anger, Rage …

We are in a season of “feeling” right now. Something I had not necessarily seen, but the signs were there. My circle of friends is tight. And we’ve been in each others company for a while now.

We have had losses of family, the loss of friends, communities. We’ve seen insanity come to other places, and tragedy occur here at home. I guess you could say that there has been a confluence of “current events” that have shaken the equilibrium of our people.

Our writer talks about finally being able to see and experience the world around her. Be that in her garden, or among her friends, or in the rooms, she mentions the word Seasons.

In my life, I think about the first time around, and what really mattered about that period in my life. Life was coming fast and furiously, and I really did not have time to stop and breath for such a long time.

I HAD coasted to the four year mark, relatively alive.

The familiar Geographical is a common theme in many alcoholic stories. As was apparent in our writers story. I had gone to the many places she did, in my own story.

My first stint in sobriety, did not offer me what this round did. There were too many unhealthy people in my vicinity. The messaging was all wrong. I was too disconnected to know better, that I was disconnected. And nobody knew to say anything before it was too late to affect change.

Even if I did know that, the HOLE in my SOUL, was running the game at the very end …

When I got sober the second time, I was all alone, save the people in the SOBE room who took care of me. I had no friends, no family, no relationship.

I reflect on the year 2001 … I was numb through a national tragedy.

The opportunity to make One Final Move presented itself. I had nothing to loose and everything to gain. I made that move, and did not look back.

I got to Montreal, in April of 2002. In the buffer zone between the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring. During that first year of time, I was living alone, going to meetings, attending after care, and I stayed sober, by doing everything I was told to do without argument.

I had eight months of being able to experience my surroundings. The people in my life, then, kept me very busy and on a short leash. In the end, it took me about two years to fully integrate into Canada and find my footing.

I remember that I had time to breathe. You might not think that that is so important, but coming out of the scourge of AIDS and surviving, knowing how hard that was and how we held out collective breaths, hoping to live, because expectations were not very high, nor were the prognosis-es, realizing that I could breathe was very important.

I had come to the point that I was One, alive and Two, sober. With those two markers out of the way, I could concentrate on living life for the first time in my life.

I was almost a year sober before I met my now husband. I had all the time in the world to get to know my world intimately and soberly. And by the time we did meet, I was ready for that portion of my life to flesh out.

The book says that the only thing that has to change in sobriety is Everything.

We see, right now, that people are feeling. In Open Community. I did not notice this until now, having spent the last year and a bit feeling, myself. But over the past few months, feelings have been on our dashboards for some time.

Spend enough time with your friends, and life happens.

My fifteenth year was, as I have said, the most emotional year I have experienced, since I got sober this time around. I’ve been “feeling in open community” and in the end, those people, whom I thought were my friends, punished me for feeling, openly.

I had not known a time where my shortcoming would be used against me by people who watched me crack under my emotions, and then say that they just could not be part of my life anymore.

Alcoholics and Addicts have very selective abilities. Many of them, placed me on a pedestal and it seemed to me, in the end, that I was supposed to be this “Vulcan type” hybrid a.l.a Spock.  Not allowing myself to feel anything.

Because when I did feel and express myself “in open community” people ran for the hills screaming and yelling…

I just cannot wrap my head around they way my friends turned around and ostracized me.

But it is what it is. I’m involved in new meetings and a new social circle.

Living in a four season country, if you take the time, there is so much to look forward to. So much to see and so much to experience.

My favorite season is Fall.

That is the season where the most happens. Falling leaves are amazing. Fall is beautiful in a country where trees and green spaces matter.

It is a religious experience, the very first night it snows. I wait for that night to happen every year. The first snow for me, is Holy.

Had I stayed where I was, in Miami, in a 2 season state, Wet and Wetter … Living in the hole I was living in, alone, I would never have flourished the way I did here.

This last move had to work, and I did all the right things.

I would never go back to the life I had for any amount of money.

Coming up on my fifties soon, all I have is time. And I need to remember to appreciate every day, because I never know when this other shoe is going to drop.

Twenty three years later, nobody knows what is going to come, or what life is supposed to look like, so we are all playing the game very carefully.

One day at a time …

 


Is Pope Francis campaigning for married priests?

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Just weeks after the conclusion of the Year of Mercy, life for gay seminarians and priests in the Catholic church took a turn toward the merciless.

As was widely reported last week, Pope Francis approved a document called “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation,” which bans gay men from seminaries and ordination.

Or, at least, most gay men. The document states,

“…the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture.’”

Though the Vatican leaves to the imagination what precisely the “so-called ‘gay culture’ might be, the guidelines suggest that gay seminarians who act like straight guys, conceal their sexualities, repress their sexual desires, and oppose any campaign for LGBT rights might be given a small window of clerical opportunity.

The guidelines further note that “such persons in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women,” and, therefore, “one must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.”

If the church does have “profound respect” for these men, it has a twisted way of showing it.

Less publicized last week was the homily that Pope Francis’ gave at Casa Santa Marta Dec. 9, the day after the release of “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation.”

Though Francis intended to use his message to critique “worldly and rigid priests,” a homophobic, misogynist anecdote in his text seemed to amplify the previous day’s barring of gay men from ordination.

According to Vatican Radio, the pope said:

“About rigidity and worldliness, it was some time ago that an elderly monsignor of the curia came to me, who works, a normal man, a good man, in love with Jesus — and he told me that he had gone to buy a couple of shirts at Euroclero [the clerical clothing store] and saw a young fellow — he thinks he had not more than 25 years, or a young priest or about to become a priest — before the mirror, with a cape, large, wide, velvet, with a silver chain. He then took the Saturno [wide-brimmed clerical headgear], he put it on and looked himself over. A rigid and worldly one. And that priest — he is wise, that monsignor, very wise — was able to overcome the pain, with a line of healthy humor and added: ‘And it is said that the Church does not allow women priests!’”

Francis describes the elderly monsignor as a “normal man, a good man” perhaps as a counterpoint to the abnormal, dandyish young man dressing in the mirror. The elderly monsignor is “in love with Jesus” — the only man, apparently, that a priest should ever fall in love with.

The monsignor is so agonized by this preening young cleric, Francis says, that the only way to alleviate his pain is to make a joke. Sadly, this “healthy dose of humor” amounts to one contemptuous punch line aimed at ridiculing the two gravest threats to the Roman Catholic priesthood: women and gay men.

If Pope Francis were simply commenting on the way in which the young man’s prideful posing was a demonstration of the corrupting power of clericalism, his lesson might be worthwhile. But by repeating a joke that mocks the man’s sexuality and belittles the struggle for women’s equality in the church, the pope reveals a disturbing resentment of women and gay men who seek to serve the church in ordained ministry.

The elderly monsignor’s punch line is as homophobic as it is misogynist. It characterizes female behavior as vain and affected. Worst of all, it suggests that the best way to demean a man is to liken him to a woman.

How ironic that Pope Francis uses such a humiliating story to call for humility, and takes such a judgmental tone as he denounces rigidity. How strange that he criticizes a pretentious, worldly young priest by promoting an elite, exclusionary vision of the priesthood.

Though some might argue that the Francis’ joke was just another one of his off-the-cuff remarks, many signs indicate that a more calculated campaign may be afoot.

It’s interesting to note that, in this same homily, Francis claims that we can know “what kind of priest a man was by the attitude they [have] with children.”

“If they knew how to caress a child, to smile at a child, to play with a child . . . it means that they know this means lowering oneself, getting close to the little things,” Francis says.

Is his homily suggesting that heterosexual men and fathers make the best priests?

The pope has never been shy about praising the holiness of the heterosexual family unit. He has called the family the “masterwork of society,” and frequently reminds us that Jesus “begins his miracles with this masterwork, in a marriage, in a wedding feast: a man and a woman.”

In the past six weeks, Francis has made his vision of the priesthood starkly clear. On Nov. 1, he confirmed the finality of the ban on ordaining women, and now he has reaffirmed the ban on most gay seminarians.

All of these clues lead one to wonder whether Francis is preparing the faithful for a new model of the priesthood: one in which young, married men may become candidates for ordination.

Many have lamented the pope’s ban on gay seminarians as a betrayal of his legendary “Who am I to judge?” statement. But perhaps Francis has a much larger agenda at work, and his desperate need to fill the priesthood is taking priority of whatever desire he may have had to be kinder to gays.

Perhaps the movement to push out gay seminarians is part of a concerted effort to make seminary life straighter and manlier for a new crop of hetero hopefuls.

Francis has given clear indications that he is receptive to a conversation about married priests.

This past August, Vatican insider Austen Ivereigh penned an essay declaring: “Next synod likely to focus on ordaining married men.”

Ivereigh cites examples in South Africa and Honduras where teams of married men with families were chosen by their communities to minister part-time while continuing to work in their professions.

“Francis has given many signals of his willingness to open up the question of ordaining married men, even encouraging local Churches to put forward proposals,” Ivereigh wrote.

Some theologians argue that the shift to a married priesthood is relatively simple. Unlike the church’s ban on women’s ordination and same-sex relationships, which are held as “doctrines,” the celibacy teaching is considered a “discipline,” and, therefore, easier to change.

The institutional church has much to gain in instituting a married priesthood. Obviously it would stave off the looming crisis of the priest shortage.

It may also serve as a tool for evangelization and promotion of family, since a priest and his wife would model the gender complementing roles frequently praised by Pope Francis. The husband would be both the father of the parish and the family, and his wife would be the serving, nurturing mother.

It might bring back into the fold all of those heterosexual families who care less about justice for women and LGBT people and more about having a relatable priest who is a husband and father.

The shift would certainly inspire wealthy donors who fund causes that seek to defeat same-sex marriage. They might see married priests as a beacon family values and “traditional marriage.”

Many Catholics often complain that our young, celibate seminarians are very conservative. But they should be warned that there are plenty of young, heterosexual, conservative Catholic men with equally conservative wives who are willing to join the priesthood. And they would gladly vow to uphold the church’s teachings on women, gender complementarity, LGBT issues and even contraception.

If the pope were to begin ordaining married men, most people would immediately laud him as a great changemaker. But when we look at Francis’ reaffirmation of the ban on gay seminarians and women priests, we must wonder whether such a change would truly bring about genuine progress, let alone justice, in our church.

A married priesthood would be a giant leap forward for heterosexual men, but many steps backward for women and gay men who feel called to ordained ministry in their church.

Those who push for a married priesthood must face the reality that they are, wittingly or unwittingly, advocating for the advancement of straight male dominance and privilege in the church. What might seem like an incremental step forward in our church might ultimately create an even more exclusionary priesthood.

[Jamie L. Manson is NCR books editor. She received her Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School, where she studied Catholic theology and sexual ethics. Her email address is jmanson@ncronline.org.]