Monday, October 20, 2014

A review of "Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith" by Eve Tushnet

I am re-posting here my Goodreads review of Eve Tushnet's "Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith" because I believe this book deserves as much attention as it can get.

A poignant conversation story, quite frankly the best book on celibacy I've ever read, and a brilliant thesis on how the Church can become a welcoming environment for those who are gay while upholding Tradition. And it had me laughing so hard you would have thought I was reading Dave Barry.

This book is well worth your time if either homosexuality or Christianity is something important to you, and if both are, then this is absolutely indispensable reading. Eve Tushnet is a celibate gay Catholic who upholds the Church's teachings on marriage and thus finds herself in the difficult position of being looked upon as suspect (at best) by Christians who don't understand why someone would continue to self-identify as gay while at the same time being at odds with most gay communities. This is a difficult road: "I've never been ashamed of being gay that I can recall, but there have been many times when the frequent small, grinding humiliations of explaining my celibacy left me feeling worn down, resentful, and equal parts self-righteous and ashamed."

In order to help gay people live out their vocation, the Church needs to be a place "where we can be honest and where we can begin to come out to ourselves and to others in a space that may be safer than our homes and families." While many Christians are ready to help those who want to wholly renounce their former homosexual identity (Tushnet cites the "ex-gay" movement and apostolates like Courage), these approaches have been found helpful by some but not by all. She stresses that her experience has not been one of "struggling with same-sex attraction;" rather the "reason I continue to call myself gay," she writes, is because "being in love with women has usually made me a better person." The Church needs to welcome those who have found meaning within their gay relationships, although God will call such people to change the way they express their love. Drawing on a deep spirituality centered on the Cross, Tushnet writes: "the sacrifice God wants isn't always the sacrifice you wanted to make. And when you know how ready you are to sacrifice a great deal, as long as you get to do it on your terms, it can feel especially painful and unfair when God asks you for something different, a sacrifice you never wanted. Good gay relationships are often sacrificial. They are loyal, vulnerable, forms of loving service, and a school for humility and forgiveness. But they aren't the sacrifice God is calling you to make." But we in the Church can hardly expect people to rise to such a challenge without our support. "Sexual wholeness is more a property of communities or churches than it is of individuals."

At root her proposal is a re-evaluation of how we in the Church talk about vocations. "Our refusal to honor or even imagine important vocations [for laypeople] other than marriage causes a huge amount of pain, loneliness, and a sense of worthlessness." Along the way Tushnet deftly points out the many ways in which the experiences of celibate gay Christians have parallels with those living other vocations, making her proposal relevant for gay and straight alike. She captures well the peculiar anxieties of this state in life: "Never knowing that there's somebody who will always take your call. Asking yourself who your emergency contact should be, rather than filling in the name without thinking about it. Feeling like you're burdening people when you need them, [...] even when you're really seriously in need." She quotes Joshua Gonnerman, who starkly expresses the problem: "The person who lives celibacy in the world has, in her or his life, the least and frailest support structures of all; yet he or she is expected to live chastity with the most general guidance and the fewest concrete examples."

What, then, can be done? Tushnet's answer (and I'm fully convinced of this myself) is that there must be ways for celibate people to become deeply involved in family life. "Knitting single people more closely into families is one of the biggest things the Christian churches could do to change the culture." She quotes Wesley Hill who recounts that "the 'after 30' friendships that I've made with married people have all depended in large measure on my married friends' treating me not as a frequent guest but like an uncle to their children." This requires families to welcome into the life of their homes celibate single persons, who in turn are called to be more radically available to their married friends. "For single laypeople living alone, it might be worth asking: Are there ways I could get a little closer to offering the on-call love my married and parenting friends so often must provide?" Tushnet admits that this "means giving up a lot of the perks that come with single life" and embracing many of the icky, gooey, sticky realities that come part-and-parcel with small children. "This is the price of admission to friendship with parents. It is totally worth it, but be prepared."

I got a lot out of reading this book, and highly recommend it to each and every one of you who have enough interest in the subject to have read all the way to the bottom of this review. I imagine that the primary audience, those who "find beauty, mutual aid, and solidarity in gay life, even though we believe we've found something much greater in Christ," will understand it on an experiential level that will make it resonate even more deeply. I hope that some day soon someone will write a book for straight celibate people that's this good and this honest. Eve Tushnet has given us something exceedingly well-written, thoroughly funny, and prophetic.

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