Line by Line

Why I Call Gay People “Gay People”

posted May 11, 2019

Tags: gender and sexuality, morals and ethics, religion

You're Catholic. Or maybe you're not, so let's pretend you are. Let's also pretend it's the Reformation and your country has officially gone Protestant. Your religion is absolutely not welcome. Those in power sincerely believe that your religion is diabolically evil and the population needs to be protected from it.

Now, this isn't one of those countries where you'll get burned at the stake or have your skin flayed off and made into the cover of a book. (I'm actually not sure that ever happened.) They think your religion is evil, and they aren't shy about letting you know it (some charitably, others decidedly not), but they don't want to hurt you. Physically, at least. Emotionally and economically? It varies. But let's say you've found a relatively tolerant neighborhood where people are more or less willing to live and let live.

There's one catch: Nobody says “Catholic.” Your Protestant neighbors certainly never use it. They will call you “Papist.” Your religion, they call “Popery.” The kinder ones may say you “suffer from” or “struggle with” Popery, or just call you a “person with Popery,&rdquo but they never call you Catholic. If you want to live with them, they say, you can't call yourself Catholic, either. You have to use their words.

And if you don't? They have an absolute tantrum. It's like you spoke Orcish in the middle of Rivendell. They'll insist that the words mean something utterly different. Papists may believe worshiping the pope and Mary and stale bread and whatnot, but those Catholics go around in public flaunting those beliefs, attending their diabolical rituals, and even teaching other people about saints and whatnot! they may not have a problem with a nice Papist like you who tries to get along in their society, but you absolutely may not call yourself a Catholic!

How would you feel, being a Catholic in this (admittedly fictionalized) situation?

Now you know how gay people feel when Catholics insist that everyone only ever say "Same-sex-attracted."

This is why I reject things like Chaput's demand that terms like “LGBT” and “heterosexual” never be used in Church documents. Well, that, and I know what an adjective is.

Even outside Catholic culture, the term “gay” is used to describe homosexual people—including by them to describe themselves—regardless of whether they're currently sexually active or ever plan to be.

Mind you, I'm not disparaging people who choose to refer to themselves only as same-sex-attracted. They can use whatever terminology they're comfortable with as long as they're not going all humpy-dumpty and making it impossible for others to understand what they're saying.

A Christian blogger by the handle Mememic-Bry, who is both smarter than I am and closer to the LGBT issue, has some wisdom to share on the subject of labels:

[...] a lot of people don’t know what those terms [like “side B” and “SSA”] mean by themselves, or they associate certain ideas and rhetoric with the term ‘ssa’ that I personally don’t stand by (conversion therapy, for example).

I guess my question for you is what is your motive for using the label? in my case, admitting I’m bi was a step forward for me. it was a matter of honesty, bringing this part of myself to light, rather than trying to hide it out of fear or shame. it helped me to name my orientation, and then to say that, regardless, I am not ruled by it. I’m still called to live how Christ has asked me to.

but my experience isn’t universal; the very same label I use might be a setback to someone else if they used it. or it might feel like it pulls the focus away from what’s important. I certainly don’t want to encourage anyone to violate their conscience just because I feel okay with using a certain word.

That idea stands in stark contrast to the vibe I've seen in some Catholic circles. Some Catholics just outright refuse to use the same words as everyone else, as though that would be admitting defeat. I've even seen the phrase “using the language of the enemy” used to describe a similar situation, calling transgender people by their preferred names and pronouns (and no, I don't remember which blog that was, let alone have the link).

Elsewhere, Bry quotes another blogger by the handle Morepopcornplease, who writes:

The hardest part has actually been dealing with Catholics who get hung up on me still using terminology like “lesbian” “gay” etc. I find overwhelmingly they think that “gay” = sExuAL sINfUL LiFesTyle, which…no. No it doesn’t. Even if you aren’t celibate like me, you can be gay and never even been kissed let alone sexualize every aspect of your life.

In another post, Bry quotes from a post by Alan Jacobs, who writes:

Imagine further that [...] I said, “Fr. Arne, I’m American.” Would he reply, “No, you’re not. You’re a child of God”? And if not, why not? (We can easily imagine other situations in which I might say “I’m white” or “I’m Southern.”)

Adjectives and similar descriptors tend to be circumstantial in this way. Were I to say, in the imagined context, “I’m American,” I would not therefore be affirming that being American is intrinsic to my identity or the most important thing about me. [...]

At this point [...] [I] remembered that Ron Belgau has already made my point: “English speakers say, ‘I am X’ all the time without meaning that ‘X’ is either a defining or constitutive element in their identity….” Belgau concludes, definitively: “I do not think that ‘gay’ describes any deep fact about who I am in Christ.” And yet no matter how many times he and his colleagues make these denials, someone always turns up to say Yes you do, you totally think that.

The insistence I see in so many quarters on policing this very particular bit of English usage is very strange to me, and I am losing the ability to see it as anything but a power play, a way of saying to gay and lesbian Christians You’ll use the language we decide you should use, or else.

(deletions mine; quotations taken from Jacobs' post, not Bry's)

I also recommend checking out Bry's post about being caught in the middle of the Christian culture that does this and the secular culture that insists that her “side B” status is a sign of self-loathing and internalized homophobia. A small excerpt:

non-Christians: oh so you hate gays then

me: I AM A GAY

Christians: you can’t call yourself that

Finally, Steve Gershom, a gay Catholic blogger (who may or may not actually be using that pseudonym anymore) addressed this issue in a talk he gave in 2015 at the university of Dallas. It's in three parts, and while part one and part two are well worth your time, the bit I want to show you is from part 3:

I want to touch on one final thing, the thing I started with, and that’s my use of the word gay. I want to tell you that I’m not actually totally comfortable with this word, either. For a long time I resisted using it about myself, because I didn’t want to place too much emphasis on this one part of my personality. I didn’t want people to misunderstand and think that I was in favor of gay marriage, or that I loved Barbra Streisand, I guess?, and I didn’t want to be reduced in their minds to “that gay guy”.

I realized, though, that this was a sort of double standard. On the one hand, I didn’t have any problem saying “I’m American” or “I’m an introvert”. I didn’t have any problem with someone telling me, “I’m an alcoholic,” or “I’m a hugger”. When people told me these things, I didn’t assume that they were talking about a deeply essential part of their identity. I just thought they were describing something about the way they experienced the world.

And then, too, I met people like my friend D—, who after thirty-odd years of telling himself that his feelings were a little weird but that he was basically straight, realized that he was exactly what people meant by gay, and his first thought was that he’d have to leave the Church — not because he suddenly wanted to go out and start sleeping with men, but because he didn’t think there could be any such thing as a gay Catholic.

You could say that D— must have been badly catechized to think that way, and maybe you’d be right. But how many other people are like him? How many people outside of our very lucky circle of very well-educated people really do understand what the Church teaches about gay people? And if we insist that putting the word “gay” and the word “Catholic” in the same sentence can never be allowed, are we helping people like him to stay in the Church?

That's the real question, isn't it? When we imply that people can't be accepted as Christians without accepting the very self-loathing the secular world falsely accuses them of, when we demand the right to dictate for them how they understand their sexual identity, when we pick a linguistic fight every time they attempt to describe themselves, are we really helping them? Are we showing them Christ's love and encouraging them to love Him? Or are we hurting them? Are we driving them away from the Church, from the Sacraments, from the very graces they need to live out the often-difficult chastity to which they are called?

Are we giving Christ's gay little ones a step up, or are we causing them to stumble?

Sorry, I got a little florid there. But I say it's the latter: Insistence on never calling people “gay” is doing far more harm than good. And this isn't just my opinion, as you can see from the words of those much closer to the issue than I am. Sure, it's important to insist that there is a difference between having homosexual inclinations and acting on them sexually. A temptation is not a sin. But there are better ways of expressing that, and we really need to break this habit if we care about the souls of our gay brothers and sisters in Christ.