Tag Archives: sexual orientation

LGBT Saints: Response to Fr James Martin

A brief  observation in a Facebook comments thread by Fr James attracted widespread media attention. In a follow up post this week, Fr Martin writes that he is surprised by this attention, and expanded on his argument. For LGBT Catholics, there are several points in this expanded observation that deserve comment.

It’s important to note, as Martin acknowledges, that the terms “gay”, “lesbian” “transgender” and “LGBT” are anachronistic when applied to the saints of history. Even the words “homosexual” and “heterosexual” are relatively modern terms, and would have been incomprehensible to people of earlier periods. “Gay” and its associated terms are of even more recent introduction. Nevertheless, it’s possible to accept that when viewed through a modern prism, a certain proportion of the saints could be described with modern terminology – i.e., part of the LGBT spectrum.

The qualification though, is to recognise that “gay” describes an orientation, not necessarily sexual conduct, just as “transgender” is used to refer to a range of non-cisgender variations, not necessarily to surgical transitioning.

It’s also important to note that the two specific examples he quotes, Mychal Judge and Henry Nouwens, are people from the late twentieth century, who have not been formally canonised. The saints of heaven are emphatically not limited to those who have been recognised by formal processes in Vatican offices. Indeed, the complexity (and cost) of the processes required for formal canonization in effect means that a disproportionate number of those approved will be priests (and a smaller number of religious sisters). It is not a co-incidence that Mychal Judge and Henry Nouwens were both priests.  However, there will be many more unrecognized saints who were not clergy – including some who might reasonably describe as lesbian, gay or trans.

Finally, a quibble. In his insistence that accepting that some of the saints will have been attracted to the same sex, does not imply that they necessarily acted on it, Fr Martin is suggesting that any such sexual activity would disqualify them from sainthood. Many respected theologians would disagree. Just as sainthood is not reserved to the priesthood, it is also not reserved to the Catholic faith. Both the Episcopal and Lutheran denominations have their own declared saints recognised in their liturgical calendars. Both now include amongst their clergy, openly gay or lesbian and partnered priests and bishops. These and other denominations will surely accept that loving, sexual partnerships are no barrier to holiness – or to sainthood.

I’m surprised that a comment I made a few days ago on this FB page was deemed news. (Google it if you doubt me.) In response to another comment, I noted that most likely some of the saints were probably LGBT. Yes, I know that the term “LGBT” wasn’t used until very recently, and that even the concept of homosexuality is a relatively late cultural construct, but if a certain (small) percentage of human beings are gay, then it stands to reason that a certain (small) percentage of the thousands of saints were, because they are, of course, human beings. And holiness makes it home in humanity.

In other words, among the saints there were probably some who were attracted to people of the same sex. That’s not to say that they acted on it, but if you consider, to take one example, all the priests, monks, brothers and sisters who were ordained or entered religious orders, it’s certainly conceivable that some of them, even as they lived celibacy and chastity, experienced attractions to people of the same sex. In fact, the priesthood and religious orders have always been places for people who have felt those inclinations to live chaste and holy lives.

Which ones? Hard to say. Really impossible to say, given how little homosexuality would have been understood, admitted and discussed in the past. To my mind, though, there are some saints who, at least based on their writings, seem to have been what we would today call gay. But again, it’s hard to know for sure.

This shouldn’t be surprising. In fact the Catechism says, in a rather overlooked passage, that LGBT people can, through a variety of means, including through prayer and the sacraments, “approach Christian perfection,” that is, become holy men and women (#2359).

In our own time, we can look to holy persons who were gay. I’ve certainly known many holy LGBT people in my own life. Or, to be more specific, think of someone like Mychal Judge, OFM, the Franciscan fire chaplain and hero of 9/11, who was also a gay man. Or Henri Nouwen, the Dutch spiritual writer, who fell in love quite suddenly, and turbulently, with a man towards the end of his life. Were these men saints? Also hard to say, but I’d argue that they were certainly holy and, therefore, they can show us how one can be an LGBT person and saintly.

As I said, I was surprised that this would surprise people. A few people were even offended. But those who were offended may be surprised to be greeted in heaven by more than a few LGBT saints, who will surely forgive them for being offended by their holiness.

Related Posts

God’s Rainbow Realm (Matthew 13:44-46)

The kindom of heaven is like a buried treasure found in a field. The ones who discovered it hid it again, and rejoicing at the discovery, went and sold all their possessions and bought that field.

Or again the kindom of heaven is like a merchant’s search for fine pearls. When one pearl of great value was found, the merchant went back and sold everything else and bought it.

Mathew 13: 44-46

Untitled Self Portrait with C.B.M. by Kim Leutwyler @ http://www.celesteprize.com/artwork/ido:56554/

Let’s play “word substitute.” Instead of “kindom of heaven,” let’s read “sexual orientation” and “sexual identity.” The parables then would read sexual orientation is like an unknown treasure that once discovered brings great rejoicing. And sexual identity once discerned is as rich and glorious as a pearl of the greatest value.

If you are playing this game with straight friends they will not get how freeing and affirming these parables are. For them, sexual orientation and sexual identity have never been hidden or sought after. It’s hardly a treasure but more of a given constant. For queers, however, the discernment of deep identity markers which set us apart from the (hetero) norm can be either an experience of anxiety or liberation – often a mixture of both. Even more reasons for us to identify with the thrill of these parables. Leutwyler’s self portrait captures the sense of  “neediness” which lends urgency to the searching and boundless joy in the finding

-continue reading at  The Bible In Drag – Queering Scripture.

Combating Children’s “Confusion” on Sexual Orientation, Gender Diversity

Chaz Bono’s appearance on Dancing with the Stars has led to substantial commentary, for and against. Some of this is leading to discussion of really important, but neglected issues. For example, one common but myopic response in opposition, and to other lesbian or gay visibility on our television screens and in our streets, is that children could be “confused” by seeing these non-conformist images, and so might grow up confused about their own identity.

The obvious problem with this assessment, is that it is only relevant to those children who happen to be born with an innate orientation, biological sex and gender identity which conform squarely with the extreme positions of the relevant sexual, biological or gender continuum. Biological and social sciences have shown conclusively that life is not so simple. If Kinsey is to be believed, most of us are not all exclusively heterosexual or homosexual. We also know that a small but surprisingly significant minority of people are born who are neither wholly male nor wholly female, but one variety or another of intersexed – and for many others, their gender identity (the way their mental state sees themselves) differs from their biological sex.

There are tragic tales of babies born with intermediate external genitals being submitted to surgery to conform with male or female stereotypes, only to discover later that the imposed external condition does not conform to internal biology. In other cases, apparently “normal” genitals differ from internal sexual biology, leading to a disjunction between the gender in which the child has been raised, and the child’s biology. Many gay men and lesbians will know from bitter personal experience the problems they have endured from bullying, verbal abuse or serious physical violence, simply for not conforming to perceptions of “normality”. Even 100% heterosexual men and women are often subjected to the same kinds of bullying, if in their demeanour or interests they present as effeminate men or masculine women – in the mistaken but common belief that these traits equate with a same-sex attraction.

There is a claim made that children’s sexual identities are not formed until late adolescence or early adulthood – and so we should shield them from knowledge of any non-conformist sexualities or gender expression until they are old enough to have made up their own minds. The claim is in fact false – the findings of science are that sexual orientation is fixed remarkably early in childhood (I have seen one research report that identifies it as settled even in the womb). But even if the claim were correct, the conclusion would be dangerous. If we accept that it is wrong to confuse a child by presenting her/him with possibilities for orientation or gender identity that differ from her/his own, how much more dangerous is it to present that child exclusively with such images?

Imagine, for example, how confusing it would be to children if every character in books, on film and TV, in sitcoms, dramas, news and documentary programs, were to be a gay man or lesbian, or if every one of them were to be seen as transgendered or cross-dressers. That would most certainly be confusing to young people whose natural orientation was to the opposite sex, and whose gender identity perfectly matched internal and external genital biology. But that is precisely the effect that we create for naturally same-sex attracted or intersex children, and those whole mental and biological genders are out of sync.

The danger to our children is not in presenting them with a range of sexual or gender models, but in perpetuating the myth that we all fit neatly into a simple binary divide, of exclusively heterosexual and biologically simple males and females. To protect the mental health of children (and shield them from prejudice and physical violence), we should be encouraging more, not less, diversity on our screens, and in public life.

Diane Ehrensaft, PhD: All Kids Deserve to Reach for the Stars — and Dance With Them, Too

“For many viewers of ABC’s mega-hit series Dancing With the Stars, the announcement that this season’s roster of contestants would include Chaz Bono, the son of Cher and the late Sonny Bono, marked a historic decision and a milestone for transgender people. To some, it made a less than welcome addition to the fall television line-up.

One viewer comment online stood out for me, given my work with gender non-conforming and transgender children and their families: “YOUR choice to bring Chaz Bono into the mix goes too far. I am not about to risk the potential for on screen dialogue about sex changes and gender confusion while my 7 and 9 year old are watching.”

-read more at Huffington Post

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Heterosexual Privilege June 24, 2009

I am grateful to kevinchi, at Pam’s House Blend, for a link to a listing of  ”heterosexual privilege.”  The list is long, and easily extended: it took me about 2 minutes to add 4 of my own:

Growing up straight:

*   Growing up straight means that I have abundant suitable role models on which to model my behaviour
*   Growing up straight means that I have appropriate socialization to show me the rules of the dating game, and how to come on to someone that I want to attract.
*   Growing up straight means that I will not be rejected by my family for my sexual orientation
*   Growing up straight means that I am dramatically less likely to be driven by bullying to take my own life.

Go ahead, read the full list here.  How long will it take you to add four of your own?

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