Same-Sex Attraction and Unnecessary Shame

shame

My daughter is left-handed, as are her two children. My brother is a lefty as well, and a few cousins are southpaws. They all inherited this gift from my wonderful grandmother, who, among many other things, was a gifted piano player who was featured on the riverboats that moored in St. Louis in the early 1900s.

Unlike her descendants, however, my grandmother never wrote with her left hand. Like all other left-handed children, in both Catholic and public schools, she was forced to change to her right hand. Frequently, her left hand was tied behind her back in the classroom to “help” her to make that change. The scientific thought at the time was that left-handedness was a sign of defectiveness or impairment and that permitting it to continue would lead to lawlessness, feeble-mindedness, or worse.

The Shame of Left-Handedness and Alcoholism

We know now, of course, that left-handedness is passed down genetically from one generation to the next, and that approximately 10-12% of all humans are left-handed. To force a left-handed child to change today would be unthinkable. My grandmother recalled the embarrassment and shame that she felt in front of her classmates when her hand was tied behind her back at the age of six. Today we would call this child abuse. We know that left-handedness is something with which a child is born, and over which a child has no control. There is no cause for childhood shame.

No one is created by God to be outside of His love.

Similarly, alcoholism was once thought to be due to personal moral failing or degeneration. Scientific studies in the past sixty years have made clear that the tendency toward alcoholism or Alcohol Use Disorder is primarily due to genetics as well as other inherited factors. While environment and personal choice play a role in how a person deals with AUD, it is clear that the tendency to abuse it is part of one’s genetic makeup.

Again, no one is created to be outside of God’s love.

Homosexuality and Genetics

The incidence of homosexuality occurs in approximately 4 to 11% of the population, depending upon how the question is asked. Recent scientific studies have shown that homosexuality is related to birth order, as well as genetic variants within the DNA from birth. These and other studies help to explain why an overwhelming number of people with same-sex attraction say they knew it from the time of the onset of puberty or even younger.

On a personal level, this writer, and you, dear reader, have been or are currently related to someone who has same-sex attraction. Overwhelmingly, we know that those who call themselves gay or lesbian insist that they always knew that they were “different” from a very young age and did not choose to be this way.

More often than not, they also have felt great shame and self-loathing. Even with the growth of the gay pride movement, and greater acceptance of same-sex couples in society, the fact remains that young people with same-sex attraction, by and large, do not have the support and role models needed to grow into healthy, non-promiscuous, and well-adjusted adults. Hence it is not surprising that young people in grades 7-12 who have same-sex attraction are twice as likely to attempt suicide.

Even now, two-thirds of the world still views left-handedness with stigma and discrimination. This is why China, for example, claims over 99% of its inhabitants are right-handed, when, in reality, left-handers are simply forced to change their dominant hand. The history of the treatment of left-handed people has been one of shame and discrimination.

What Can We Do?

Young people with same-sex attraction must be spared similar shame through the love and welcome our Church can offer them. Yet we are too afraid of society’s wrath to offer them the truth.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls all of us to live chaste lives. As children of God and temples of the Holy Spirit, we are not to misuse our bodies. This also is just plain good sense. It has long been proven that promiscuity of any kind is severely detrimental to one’s mental, emotional, and physical health.

For a Catholic adolescent who is same-sex attracted, the burdens are great and the shame can be devastating. What can the Church do to be more welcoming to them?

Rainbow flags and parades are not the answer. Neither are separate LBGT liturgies. This only serves to promote the notion that people with same-sex attraction are different from the rest of us, or that “unrepressed” sexual activity is healthy for them. It is not.

The Church should re-emphasize the teaching and benefits of chastity for all, with the merciful understanding that all of us, in equal measure, fall short of this virtue.

Promoting Chastity

For too long, we have looked past the sins of promiscuity for heterosexuals. We have shrugged when young men and women move in together or written off the “sowing of wild oats” as a normal passage of a young man’s sexual development. We have stood by when our daughters dress in manners which debase their sanctity as children of God, passively accepting the narrative that “there are no other clothes out there to buy.”

We leave unchallenged the TV shows, movies, videos, and music which promote blatant promiscuity. We are wary of appearing puritanical or uptight, wishing to avoid the arrows of judgment from a secular society which is only too eager to incorrectly identify the Church’s sexual abuse problem as the result of a sexually repressed celibate clergy. We don’t stand up for chastity because we are afraid to be on the outside of popular culture.

Yet in failing to actively promote chastity, we are only inviting our children to suffer the unnecessary shame which comes with the glorification of sex and to choose a path farther away from God. When the world tells our children that it is good to separate sex from love and creation, it is only inviting our children to join in the abyss of shame, self-loathing, and worthlessness. Created in God’s image, we all deserve better than to be sold this corrupt bill of goods, which only serves to line the pockets of clothing designers and media companies.

We should not be afraid or ashamed to stand on the rock of chastity for all of our children, and proclaim it as the only positive, healthy, and happy way to grow. Yes, we will fall short. But those failures should be treated mercifully as the exceptions, and not the rule. Chastity should be proudly celebrated as the best and happiest way to live.

“Wrapped in the Loving Embrace of God’s Truth”

The Bishops will be meeting in February to discuss solutions to sexual abuse caused by predator clergy members and overlooked or ignored by their bishops. It is the duty of the Bishops and Vatican to take measures to remove these predators from the Church, implement appropriate processes to identify and adequately prosecute predators in the future and create realistic means of oversight in each parish. It is the abusive predators who deserve shame, not their victims, innocent clergy, or seminarians.

When the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person by refusing to consider individuals as “heterosexual” or “homosexual,” insisting that every person has a fundamental identity as a creature of God, and by grace, His child and heir to eternal life, we are wrapped in the loving embrace of God’s Truth. (CourageRC.org, “Spirituality of Courage”)

No one is created by God to be outside of His love.

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8 thoughts on “Same-Sex Attraction and Unnecessary Shame”

  1. If SSAs seem to be genetically predisposed, why are they only lately coming out of their Catholic closet? The Catholic Church dispels scientists leanings of the opposite side. I see a paradox here. How can the church say that homosexuals are loved and welcomed, but their behavior is not? To say the least, I am perplexed by yet another statement of celibate confliction.

  2. Using the term “with same sex attraction” is akin to calling left handed people “with dominant left handedness.” Identifying one’s sexual orientation is no different than identifying whether one is right or left handed. No left-handed gene has ever been identified, nor has a gay gene been, either. Given that both have naturally appeared in every society we know of since for all of recorded human history, we would be hard pressed to identify either as anything other than a natural variant. The author gets half way there. I hope she will soon come to a full realization that people who are gay or lesbian aren’t “with” any kind of ailment but merely people worthy of romantic love just like everyone else.

    1. Actually, the purpose of using the term SSA is, as stated in my other comment, different that left-handedness in that one leads to sin and the other does not. It does not mean that one group is inferior to others. We all have sins that beset us more than others, and for those of us with same-sex attractions those temptations are towards sexual activity with people of our same biological gender. The Church teaches that those activities, not the temptations, are unacceptable, as are any sexual activities beyond the scope of marriage and openness to life. That is not a badge of shame but a reality some of us face daily. Left-handedness carries no innate temptation towards sin. SSA does. That is the difference.

  3. Personally, I would change the following statement [IN CAPS] as follows, due to it being weak on sin and human fallenness [IME].

    “When the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person by BOLDLY STATING THAT WE ALL COME INTO THE WORLD WITH A SINFUL AND FALLEN HUMAN NATURE WHICH HAS AN AFFINITY FOR HETEROSEXUAL AND HOMOSEXUAL GRATIFICATION OUTSIDE MARRIAGE AND CHASITY, THE JOURNEY HOME BEGINS. WE THUS HAVE AT OUR DISPOSAL THE MEANS AND ASSISTANCE OF CONFESSION, PRAYER, SCRIPTURAL EDUCATION SO NECESSARY TO AFFIRM OUR fundamental identity as AN OBEDIENT creature of God, and by HIS PRO-OFFERED GRACES & WORD, WE HAVE A LIFE TIME OF OPPORTUNITIES TO BECOME His child and heir to eternal life, THUS wrapped in the loving embrace of God’s Truth. (CourageRC.org, “Spirituality of Courage”)

  4. First I wish to thank you for a kind and compassionate treatment of this topic. Being a person who happens to have SSA, and one who has not always followed the Church teaching on the topic in the past, I can truly say I relate to much of what you have said so eloquently. The shame, pain, rejection, and yet hope, all are deeply familiar to me. You captured those feelings well.

    I do wish to gently challenge the idea that SSA can be compared with left-handedness though. While you rightly suggest that there are certain similarities, there is one major difference–the tendency or inclination itself can only lead to sin in the case of SSA. This is why the Church defines it as “intrinsically disordered.” Some have indeed used that terminology to shame and hurt others, and that is deeply unfortunate. But, while all are called to chastity as your other commentator Peter has mentioned, and you stated as well in your article, there is always the option of sacramental marriage for the person with OSA (opposite-sex attraction) while this option is not nearly as likely for those of us with SSA. And that reality itself can lead to a sense of not quite fitting with those around us, and always wondering if we ever will.

    That battle within us does not mean we are in any way less or 2nd class somehow, but it does mean that a deep-seated side of ourselves must neccesarily be limited in ways that our OSA sisters and brothers do not need to do. In that regard it is not innocuous like left-handedness but rather a very real temptation to sin that we must take to the Cross daily.

    I am the first to say that I am far from perfect in that regard, although I have been celibate for many years. But chastity is purity of heart, and I have not yet gotten there, nor have many of us who deal with this particular struggle. Your points about the Church needing to be more compassionate are well taken, and I wrote about this issue myself just over a week ago here on Catholic Stand, but the first step towards compassion must include helping us to face ourselves in the mirror as we are, and many of us are deathly afraid to look. But look we must.

    Then, and only then, if that is our particular sin or struggle, we finally become able to say so, both in the confessional and mostly to ourselves and God. If we think it is only another form of “left-handedness” we might not do so. Again thanks for your well-researched and non-shaming words. That too is what we need–but only after facing our battle head-on. God bless.

    1. Opposite Sex Attraction (OSA) may lead to marriage, but that option is not always available to single people. It is just as difficult for a OSA to remain celibate outside marriage as it is for a SSA individual.

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