“This can’t be real.”
I was a theology teacher showing my classroom a video featuring testimonies of devout Catholics experiencing same-sex desires. Despite their same sex attraction, the individuals had decided to strive to live within the teachings of the Church. Most students were genuinely surprised and engaged in respectful dialogue during this lesson, but this student had clearly taken issue with the film.
“They’re making it up. No one would do that. No one would live like that! It’s not real.”
My heart caught in my chest. I swallowed hard and took a deep breath. ”Oh kid,” I thought.“ You think you know, but you have no idea…”
Let’s flash back fifteen years. It was another high school classroom, but this time I was the teenager in a desk. And so was she, my friend across the room. Pay attention! Shoot, did I glance one too many times? Would she notice? Would anyone see? Did I want her to? Despite existing attractions to guys, I started recognizing my feelings towards women weren’t the same as most girls. The recognition made me internally conflicted. Because, you see, I’d met someone else, Jesus, the previous summer, and it’s difficult to forget your first love.
I’ve always been the kind of person who sticks to my guns, who doubles down and digs in her heels. Once I had a powerful retreat experience and decided I wanted to intentionally follow Christ, there was no looking back. I was going to push on, come hell or, high water…or highly attractive women. Because, for me, our teachings on the human person make sense (even on the days I don’t want them to). If I can believe that God created the natural world with radical beauty and fruitful potentiality…well, aren’t I part of that? Aren’t my body, my soul, my “inward parts” shaped with both design and destiny? 1 And that all has consequences for my sexual decisions. At the end of the day, it’s a very real choice to surrender my desire for union with another woman and entrust my life to God in faith, hope, and love.
I say “entrust” because my feelings don’t just stop. For nearly the entirety of my walk with Christ, romantic desire for the same sex has been an intermittent companion on the journey. Sometimes intensely emotional, sometimes vague and fleeting. Sometimes slipping in temptation, sometimes triumphant in virtue. It took me a few years to learn that I wasn’t alone in the Church, that amidst all the fallen and redeemed people making up the Body of Christ, some of them had baggage that matched mine. It took a little more time for me to start sharing this vulnerable part of me with friends and mentors. It took even longer to believe – really believe – that there’s no cause for crippling shame in a cross one never chose.
If you’re like me, part of the ragtag band of aching hearts striving for sanctity, below are some thoughts on how to start down the road. And what if you’re not like me? Well, you probably have someone in your life experiencing same-sex desires, and knowledge of the following advice could make you a better traveling companion.
Remember Your Beginning
You’re a complex human person who experiences confusing, messy things. God created you in His image: gloriously complex, unique, and unrepeatable. He also let you come into a fallen world as a fallen being with the potential for becoming even more confusing and messy. In all of this, He knew His Son was coming for the salvation of exactly your type of complexity. If you’re baptized, you’re an adopted daughter or son of that same Father. You’re washed clean in the blood of His Son, anointed with His Spirit, and gifted an eternal destiny beyond your wildest imaginings. And yeah, there’s some mess along the way. What kind of adventure would it be otherwise?
Get Uncomfortable with Solitude
God created the first person originally in solitude, and that’s where we’ll finish out our days – alone before Him. Prayer helps us, in the here and now, get in touch with our origins and our end. These are both pretty deep, intense realities! If your prayer life consists of a simple routine that keeps you pleasantly engaged – or you don’t have a routine at all – now is the time to get uncomfortable. Here’s the thing…not every one of your friends will understand this about you. Your family may not know how to react. As you continue to follow Christ in the midst of your same-sex desires, you’ll experience doubt, fear, and relational aches. So pray, pray, and pray again. Dive into Scripture. Practice a few minutes of utter silence. Press into the uncomfortable longings in order to develop a robust, dynamic relationship with the Lord. There is one Person who is steadfast and unfailing, Who spoke you into being and Who is waiting with bated breath for your ultimate return Him. And you can converse with Him, openly and honestly, about whatever is on your heart.
Acknowledge Where You’re At
God also said it wasn’t good for the first person to always be alone! The experience of same sex attraction occurs in the thick of our longing for intimacy. Healthy thriving will mean sharing our experience of sexuality with people we trust, rather than bottling it up and hoping for the best.
I’ve talked to a lot of people who have disclosed their experience to another but been disappointed with how the conversation went. I typically ask them, “What were you hoping for?” And I encourage everyone to ask this question. If you decide to share this with your close friends, they should ask you: “What do you need right now?” Knowing the answers to these questions can be helpful before a conversation takes place. Of course, the first thing we all need is someone to really listen to what we’re saying, to not jump in and respond out of their own fears or assumptions.
Depending on your place in the journey, you’ll need to seek different types of traveling companions. Is this an area in which you’ve lived faithfully and you just need to name the struggle? Or maybe you’ve been attracted to the opposite sex, but an intense friendship has stirred up something you didn’t anticipate? Someone close to you who shares your faith, like best friends or a mentor are a good place to start for support, encouragement, and a place to start processing. Is this something that is repeatedly drawing you into sin, and you need regular accountability? Finding a good spiritual director or confessor would be key to that situation. Has keeping this hidden been leading to isolation and early signs of depression? You may want to find a Catholic counselor to help you navigate your anxiety. Are you seriously questioning the Church’s teaching? Your friends might be sympathetic, but they probably won’t have all of the answers. A patient, theologically-sound person would be more helpful to wade through things with you.
Identify Your Gritty Companions
All that said, having regular support in your day-in, day-out life is incredibly important. Everybody needs somebody! When we start sharing vulnerably about our lives, however, our friends can have all kinds of different reactions. Some might think you’re looking for a “solution” from them, some might have never met a fellow disciple who experiences same-sex desires, others might try to convince you to act on what you feel and leave the Church. I hope you have some friends who understand you’re simply choosing to be honest with them about something difficult. Those friends will probably be gritty like you. They’ll be aware of their own difficult parts of life. They won’t see you as someone to fix or fear. They’ll know you’re just another disciple in process, like them. When seeking community, look for these friends who are mutually supportive. This means people who will be vulnerable themselves, who will seek accountability from you too, and who are dedicated to walking together for the long haul.
Connect with Experienced Guides
Navigating how these desires manifest in you might be a limited season or a lifelong process. When we’re entering unfamiliar territory, knowing someone who has already navigated the terrain can make a world of difference. There aren’t a lot of people who are open about their experiences of same sex desires. It could be easy to look around your immediate surroundings and wonder, “does anyone here know what I’m going through?” That’s why existing organizations like Eden Invitation and Courage be helpful for your journey. These are people who experience what you experience, but many of them have been walking the road for a little while longer. Some of them are vibrantly single for the Lord, some of them are happily married to a person of the opposite sex, and others are like you, still working out God’s call on their life.
For those of us on the spectrum of same sex attraction, sometimes it might feel like the Church is about surviving – saying “no” to one thing and fumbling along alone. I firmly believe Christ – and the Church He founded – are passionately concerned with our thriving. And we can get started now, together, in real life.