I am not impervious to the fact that one’s struggle with homosexual inclinations isn’t a walk in the park. Nor am I naive to think that my conversion four years ago would be a singular moment in time, the way St. Paul’s fall in Damascus changed the course of his life forever. The Catholic’s struggle for holiness is for a lifetime. Even at one’s deathbed, a choice between loving God or rejecting Him will be presented.
For most of the years following my decision to abandon the gay lifestyle, I’ve largely succeeded — through God’s grace — to stay on an even keel. I took what might seem like desperate measures: cut off sinful friendships, avoided listening to certain music, and tried to live, as best as I could, a normal life. Many good things came about these challenging decisions — new and holier friends, quietude, a general sense of contentment. But they were always tempered by a past life, an old voice, and a painful thorn that would rear its ugly head whenever I felt I was getting better.
God’s Will and Cross is a humbling will and humbling cross.
I do not wish to exaggerate my struggles, nor desire to be pitied. We all have our fair share of sorrows, regardless if we measure these crosses as ‘fair enough’. But what I do want is to shed light on how these bouts of interior crises afflict the soul. Contrary to popular belief, the ebbs and flows in the life of a Catholic with same-sex attraction aren’t often as tangible as a mere relapse into sins against purity. More often than not, they come in subtle forms of confusion, discouragement, and vulnerability. From experience, these temptations often target the person’s trust in the Lord. In other words, the enemy wants to disquiet the soul and weaken his faith in the truth that he is God’s child.
I remember reading an article by Dr. Jeffrey Mirius about the Catholic homosexual’s vocation towards love amidst his dark night. To me, his words truly captured what is, I believe, the true battle faced by people like me. He writes (and I quote in full):
“For those with a properly ordered heterosexual affectivity, there is a general subconscious delight in the interplay between male and female, a sense of difference and complementarity and joyful mystery. On those occasions when we act inappropriately, the consequences may be unpleasant, but both our affective range and our mistakes are generally understood. We may have to learn to behave differently—to guide and channel our affectivity more suitably and more productively—but we do not have to suspect, reject or alter its basic orientation. Though our sexuality colors and influences much or most of what we do in subtle ways, there is nothing about it that we must fundamentally call into question or doubt.
This is not the case for those whose affectivity is persistently imbued with homosexual inclinations. The attractions they find natural, mysterious or even exhilarating will be perceived by most people as inexplicable or even repulsive. If one seeks comfort and solace in the company of the small minority who share these attractions, the dangers are obvious. Yet not to do so can force one to question one’s affectivity at nearly every level. Why is so much of what I feel and how I interact with others imbued with a sexual pattern that others cannot understand and are likely to reject violently? Is my entire outlook, my entire attitude toward life and love fundamentally broken? Am I therefore incapable of love? Am I even unworthy of it?”
On many occasions, these questions arise from what may appear like harmless and even meaningless conditions. These make them all the more challenging to control, understand, and even overcome.
From my own experience, the triggers can be mundane: a love song on the radio, the scent of a man passing by, a good looking actor in a Korean drama, quotes shared by friends on Facebook.
A straight man or woman will sing along to a heartwarming ballad. For the Catholic with same-sex attraction, the melancholy of a song can stir an overwhelming feeling of loneliness. Music, although healing, can also exacerbate wounds. Quotes on love and life can unsettle the soul. Books and stories in the newspaper can be unexpected black holes that suck in the zeal to put up a fight.
Most of my friends I know enjoy a drama series or two. In my case, watching a television show can be a slippery slope that ends with an infatuation towards one of the actors. For my straight friends, gushing over a male or female lead is normal, perhaps even expected. But for someone like me, a ‘harmless’ crush can quickly transform into hours spent in idle daydreaming — desiring to be held, yearning to have a man one could talk to. And while one can discipline the imagination, the heart can soon find itself restless and wandering away from God.
A trip to the mall seems routine for most people. But for a man dealing with homosexual tendencies, just passing by the department store can be a struggle. Our sexualized culture is plastered on the walls of advertisements. Images of scantily clad men seem to be just as prevalent as that of women. Purchasing undergarments is always a risk. Inside the cinemas, my eyes must close at even the slightest appearance of a shirtless man in a movie.
Even activities as normal as walking or going to a restaurant can be a challenge. An attractive man might pass by and leave an immediate impression on an unguarded heart. My eyes might find myself stealing glances over a good looking fella across the table. A stranger next to me on the bus can stir arousal, attraction, and anxiety. When I arrive home, fragments of these memories can be like shards of glass that pierce the heart. Removing them can be painful.
Indeed, I must have fallen in love a thousand times with strangers, actors, pictures, fragrances, and memories. On some days, they can just be for a moment. During harder times, they can last for weeks. They might offer relief from emptiness but they cannot guarantee joy. When they are over, I wake up sleeping on the cold floor, having taken many steps in my struggle to become a saint.
Throughout all these ordeals, the question over one’s identity and worth resurface, as Dr. Mirius wrote. Have I truly been healed? Is it okay to feel this way? Is God pleased with me? I might laugh at a happy crush I have entertained, and even justify it in my prayer as nothing more but a fleeting affair. Deep inside, however, it can trigger bouts of scrupulosity as I examine over and over again whether I had pushed my limits once more, and if those passing thoughts of a shirtless man were grave occasions of objectifying a creature. And when I cannot take it any longer, it can swallow the soul into a whirlpool of self-pity — a symptom of self-love.
But the hardest part is not facing the reality that I have fallen over these little things. That I am susceptible to falling again and again over the same sins is not a surprise. The main difficulty lies in not being able to speak about these things to people I know or I am close with. My struggles are mere anecdotes and blog posts for strangers to read.
I have largely hidden my disorder from my parents, as they already have to deal with some of their children — my siblings — already living a homosexual lifestyle. To tell them about my hurts and loneliness will only add to their fears and worries. I do not wish to trouble them anymore.
Meanwhile, some of my friends who do not understand my desire to live a life of chastity, or whose knowledge of me as their token ‘gay’ friend from high school or college obscures my struggles to become a faithful Catholic, will advise me that my feelings are legitimate and that I should not feel guilty about it.
It can feel like a tug of war.
Interestingly, it is during these dry spells, arid prayers, and dark nights that the greatest truth is clearest. God alone suffices. It’s easy to see this when your eyes have been cleansed by tears. Believing in it, however, is another matter.
A few times in my life, when I am surrounded by the dust from another one of these falls from grace, I find that the only place where I can unburden fully and without any fear of judgment is in front of God. During mass, there are no questions about who you are and what you’ve done. God knows everything — including those you’ve hidden from family and friends. In the silence of prayer, in that almost lonely piercing gaze at the Blessed Sacrament, one sees the only person, the only being, who knows you exactly how you feel because He took it upon Himself.
He doesn’t promise happiness in this world. Instead, He whispers into your ears that every struggle, every battle — whether won or lost — for holiness, is worth it for the happiness of heaven. It’s this thought of the unimaginable and incomparable joy that, after being wearied by my disorder, keeps me on my feet.
And so I return to stand. I return to walk.