Thursday, May 24, 2012

Comments on "Why I Call Myself a Gay Christian" (

These are some comments on the post Why I Call Myself a Gay Christian over at First Things.

I initially pointed out:

I don't think ordered desire in Selmys' sense does it for you here. Since you're endorsing it, I'll just take what she says at face value as your position as well. She writes: 

When I look at a woman, and see that she is beautiful, that she is desirable, that she is enticing, I'm seeing something that is objectively true: she is objectively a manifestation of the imago dei, she is objectively attractive, and it is objectively legitimate for me to desire to be united with her in the vast communio personarum which is constituted by the Church and by the whole human race. My desire is not disordered in and of itself: it becomes disordered when I direct it, or allow it direct itself, towards something which is forbidden.

While I think she's right that it's possible to recognize and rejoice in a woman's beauty without necessarily lusting after her, that would be the same description that would apply to a heterosexual-inclined person as well. If the same desire can be manifested by a heterosexual, it doesn't seem appropriate to classify it as a "gay" (or "straight") desire. Instead, it's the proper affective response to perceived beauty. Therefore, it's not a meaningful expression of her "gayness."

In other words, as far as I can tell, the only point of insisting on a "gay" identity is to endorse the sexual aspect of the attraction, which towards a member of the same sex must always be "towards something which is forbidden." I would, of course, readily grant that something similar could be true of a "heterosexual identity," a concept which strikes me a similarly misguided. The real objection is the claiming of an "identity" in terms of sexual attraction. This distinction between "ordered desire" and "concupiscence," while certainly a real distinction, does not justify claiming a "gay" identity.

All of that said, I am certainly impressed in your willingness to engage in this discussion and take you at your word that you recognize the authority of the traditional Christian teaching. In light of that fact, however, it's really not clear what good you think you're pursuing in self-identifying with a sexual attraction that is intrinsically disordered.

To which Mark responded: 

I "understand" your objection to Selmys's idea when you say "While I think she's right that it's possible to recognize and rejoice in a woman's beauty without necessarily lusting after her, that would be the same description that would apply to a heterosexual-inclined person as well. If the same desire can be manifested by a heterosexual, it doesn't seem appropriate to classify it as a 'gay' (or 'straight') desire. Instead, it's the proper affective response to perceived beauty. Therefore, it's not a meaningful expression of her 'gayness.'"
However, I think you're off. Yes, beauty/aesthetic appreciation is a good that can be recognized by everyone, male or female, gay or straight.
But what if instead of beauty I said "sexual attractiveness"? What if we phrase it so that I'm not talking about finding a woman "beautiful," but finding her "hot" (on the erotic end of the spectrum) or "cute" (on the infatuated end of the spectrum)??
Surely, sexual attractiveness (which I don't think recognizing is at all the same as saying you desire to HAVE sex with that person) in a person is a real good, both physically and in personality. If that trait really exists, and if its okay for heterosexuals to recognize and appreciate it (even, say, in people other than their spouse)...then it must be a real objective good, like beauty. And yet (unlike the "cold" aesthetic sort of beauty) it also seems to be a good that presumably only a person with an androphilic or gynephilic "antenna" for picking up on such a good can recognize fully.
Now, something is either good or it isn't, though different people may have different temperaments (ie, some people just naturally enjoy eating their vegetables, others don't. Some people like the mental challenge of chess, for others that takes a "stretch" or is an acquired taste or never suits their temperament.) Likewise, the trait or Form or Idea of "male sexual attractiveness" or "female sexual attractiveness" (a specific subset of beauty I'd argue can only be recognized fully in men by androphiles, and only in women by gynephiles)...must be a real good, even if not everyone is "attuned" to it, I don't think it's possible to say that being attuned to a given good (assuming it's a real good) is wrong for males or for females, as if there are really in humanity two separate sexual appetites with two separate objects.

Melina Selmys also responded:

To be clear, I don't exactly identify as "gay" -- I tentatively use the word "queer" which I think more accurately covers my experience of myself as being somehow "other," not really straight, but none the less capable of having a functional and very happy heterosexual marriage, not very gender-typical, and yet convinced that I am essentially feminine. In any case, I would suggest that for most heterosexual people there isn't a point where their interior freedom manifests itself in the form of a decision to look with our without lust at a person of the same sex. This is what I think is a meaningful expression of queerness, gayness, whatever you want to call it: that there is a decision there that is being made which is fundamentally alien to the heterosexual person. I've worked pretty hard to get that interior freedom, but having worked for it I can't help but notice that the freedom which the practice of chastity grants me does not look very much like what Ken Colston seems to be imagining when he talks about overcoming the homosexual inclination. It is a freedom to choose to decline the temptation, to turn the temptation into an occasion of grace, it is not the freedom to not be tempted. I think it's reasonable to call that a manifestation of "gayness." I also think that it's reasonable to me to assert that I don't believe that there is ever going to be a point where this particular thorn in my flesh is going to be taken away, and that it's much more fruitful to try to turn that into an opportunity to more deeply appreciate the ways in which God's grace suffices.

My response:

(1) To Mark: I was responding to what Selmys wrote, and what she wrote was "beauty" not "sexual attractiveness" so I think it would be unreasonable to claim that was I said was "off" even if what you write regarding "sexual attractiveness" were correct. As I happens, I do not think it is as I will address below.

(2) To Melina: I was originally responding to Joshua regarding his self-identification as "gay"which he ought to justify by linking to your discussion of the putative difference between ordered and concupiscent desire. It's interesting that you seem to be distinguishing yourself from Joshua in this regard, and I wonder exactly what your reasons for doing so are. Perhaps they're related to what I will discuss below, but it might be helpful if you were to spell them out a bit more.

Let us begin by making some distinctions, as several different claims are at play here. My original point, directed at Joshua Gonnerman (the original author) was simply that his argument for self-identifying as a "gay Christian" is not adequately supported by the distinction Selmys draws between ordered and concupiscent desire. As far as I can make it out, the argument Gonnerman offers is something like this:

(1)One should include those "aspects of who I am" that "say something significant about me" as a part of my self-identiy.
(2) I regard my "homosexuality as a significant part of who" I am
(3) Therefore, I should include my homosexuality as part of my self-identity

His appeal to Selmys is part of an attempt to forestall an objection against (2) to the effect that (2) is incompatible with his separate claim that "The central locus of my identity, which shapes all other aspects of it, is Christ" where that is taken to include a commitment to the tradition teaching of the Church that "men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies" possess an "inclination, which is objectively disordered" (CCC, 2358). Basically he wants to claim that understood in the right way (as an ordered desire) the self-recognition of homosexuality as significant part of his self-identity will not conflict with the primacy of his embrace of orthodoxy. My original claim above is that this fails.

This reason for this is simple. As I pointed out above, the distinction between ordered desire and concupiscence is a real one. The question is whether it applies in this case. I think it does not, at least it does not apply in to the sort of affective response that Selmys describes in the original quote ("I see that she is beautiful, that she is desirable, that she is enticing...."), because while I absolutely accept that such an affective response is possible (and good), it is in no way specifically characteristic of a *homosexual* affective response, but could, and *should* be manifested in a properly ordered heterosexual. As such, it does not pick out a good specific to a possessing a homosexual orientation or tendencies (even those which are not acted upon or embraced).

Mark claims that this point might apply to "the 'cold' aesthetic sort of beauty" but not to the sort of good of "sexual attractiveness" which "presumably only a person with an androphilic or gynephilic 'antenna' for picking up on such a good can recognize fully." It is precisely this second claim that I reject.

First we need to take care of language here. I suspect that what Mark has in mind is not a *recognition* of a propositional truth (e.g. X is sexually attractive), but rather that someone with the right kind of "antenna" can "pick up on" the good that is "sexual attractiveness" because they can feel in a certain way, or, better yet, have a certain kind of affective response (i.e. possess a certain sensibility). In other words, the claim seems to be that possessing the right kind of "antenna" makes one sensitive to a real good that one would not otherwise be sensitive to.

The reason it it can't be a recognition of a propositional truth is obvious. I can recognize or (legitimately) accept as true propositions for which my only evidence is non-affective (e.g. on authority, mathematical truths, etc.). To the point at hand, even though I have no personal sexual attraction to Brad Pitt, etc. I can recognize that he is sexually attractive. Indeed, there are women that I personally do not find sexually attractive (in no sense, even the figurative one, do my loins stir in contemplating them), but I can absolutely recognize that they are sexually attractive (it seems I happen not to be sexually attracted to women of a certain race, but I absolutely understand that other men are attracted to them, and indeed that in a fully objective sense they are sexually attractive). So we can set asside the point that I need to have a certain kind of affective response in order to recognize a propositional truth, even a propositional truth for which an affective response is appropriate. (Consider the analogous point that a color-blind person can recognize and accept the proposition that "grass is green" without himself being capable of the affective response that is appropriate to the visual perception of green grass.)

Let us now to the real question: is there a sense in which a real good of "sexual attractiveness" can only be "fully recognized" by someone with the right kind of "antenna" and does possessing that kind of "antenna" then always constitute a good. Let's consider another analogy. It is commonly believed (and let us accept it for the sake of argument) that the loss of one sense makes the others more keen. The classic example would be a blind person who thus possesses a particularly keen sense of hearing.

If we ask – *is a keen sense of hearing a good?* – I think that the most plausible answer is – *yes, of course*. Now suppose (again for the sake of argument) this keeness of hearing were only possible for a blind person, that a sighted person simply (in principle) could not develop this level of auditory sensitivity. Now let us ask – *is the blindness a good*? I think the answer is just as obvious – *no* – even though that blindness is a necessary condition for the achievement of a different good. Suppose something similar is the case here with Mark's "androphilic or gynephilic 'antenna'"; even if he is correct that sexual attrativeness is a good (which I grant) and even if he is correct that only those with the right kind of "antenna" will be fully affectively sensitive to that good (which I'll grant for sake of argument) it does not follow that the means to the achievement of that affective sensibility is therefore always a good. An end can be good, without all the means to achieving that end being good.

So a woman's affective sensibility to Brad Pitt's sexual attractiveness can perhaps be a real good, without it's being the case that a homosexual man's affective sensibility to Brad Pitt's sexual attrativeness is a good given that the latter is only possible in virtue a malformation of his properly ordered sensibilities as man (i.e. male human being). This is similar to the case above in in  the blind man's acute hearing is a *per se* good without its being the case that his blindness is a *per se* good.

Of course, all of this talk of disordered or malformed only makes sense within the context of an objective reality of the properly ordered sensibilities. This is ultimately why Gonnerman's claims fail. There is nothing good, per se, in possessing a homosexual sensibility / inclinations *even if* following Mark that makes possible something else which is a good.


A new blog is perhaps one of the last thing the world needs right now. Therefore, I'm mainly putting it here to collect things that might otherwise be lost to the disparate winds (e.g. comments I leave around the web), and also just to have a landing pad. I can be contacted at: TradCathPhilProf at the Gmail.