Recently, the Irish LGBT support organisation BeLonGTo produced what is, to my mind, a simple yet pointed awareness video against homophobic bullying. Stand up! Don’t stand for homophobic bullying has been doing the rounds on the internet, but if you haven’t seen it yet, then here it is:
What really struck me in the advert is the simple gesture of holding hands. Simple, that is, if one is straight. Things are more complicated if you’re gay and you’re holding the hands of someone of your own sex. And you’d really be asking for it if you dared to act further on your feelings and decide to kiss this same person on the lips, and perhaps embrace him or her. Even if I were to make allowance for cultural variances and how public displays of love and romance are received, the fact is that gays face a tough battle if they dare express their love in public. Why are such acts deemed to be so offensive as to provoke hostile reactions? Why should the simple gesture of two men holding each other’s hand unleash such hatred as to lead to bullying or even gay-bashing? If you think it’s far-fetched, have a look at this. (Via Joe.My.God.)
Hiding our love
Objectors will say that we gays are never satisfied with what is given to us: isn’t it enough that we obtain the same rights as the remainder of society? Do we have to flout our behaviour? To which I must obviously reply by asking: why should I have to hide my love for fear of being attacked? Why do I have to look over my shoulder or control myself in an exaggerated way so as to prevent others around me from seeing any displays of affection for another person of the same sex? If a straight couple can go around freely holding hands, or snogging or what have you, without fear of being bashed or bullied, then gays and lesbians should be similarly treated. That such is not usually the case, except in limited places or during certain events (like a pride parade), exposes the deep roots of homophobia that need to be pulled up. However, the story doesn’t end here; I would like to raise some other issues.
The Catholic Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church §2357-59) and the Christian right hide their homophobia behind their stance on homosexual acts – by which we generally understand them to mean genital acts – because such acts are deemed to be unnatural and non-procreative (and therefore unnatural, hence the tautology). Even if one were to refrain from commenting about the absurdity behind this reductionist approach to sex (not least because it is so genitally-focussed), there are still other issues to contend with here. First of all, there’s the absence of the language of love in the argument that is raised by this group, and secondly, if I may ask, where are we to draw a line? Which acts would amount to homosexual acts, and which acts are deemed acceptable by the morality police? Perhaps the Church hierarchy and their right-wing sidekicks can explain to the rest of us whether or not holding hands and kissing or cuddling are deemed to be homosexual acts, and therefore highly reprehensible. Perhaps they can go further and try to give us their views, obviously backed by scripture and church tradition, about this degenerate behaviour. I mean, seriously, what could be more harmful to society than two men holding hands in public? Oh, the horror!
How far can I go?
And then there’s that magical word: celibacy (or “chastity”, as is it is referred to in the Catechism §2359). Gays and lesbians “are called to chastity” says the Catechism. Called by whom? Has God decreed that all gays and lesbians have, by nature of their sexuality, a vocation to remain celibate? On what grounds? Where’s the free human agency in the calling? And then again, perhaps these experts in human sexuality can explain to us common mortals where we are to draw a line. Is romantic kissing OK for the Church? Or perhaps one would be going too far if holding hands and cuddling were to be included? Who knows, perhaps it amounts to a sexual act. Well, yes in fact it is a sexual act. But not a genital act. Oh, I see, so it’s all about genitals, isn’t it, and not about human beings in their entirety.
Admittedly I feel very strongly about this issue, whence my ranting here at QTC. Perhaps, it’s because I’m very comfortable expressing my feelings, and I’m not afraid of showing my affectionate side. More importantly, as a Catholic, I am heir to a long tradition of symbols and gestures by which we give expression to realities that are otherwise inexpressible. We are a sacramental church and it becomes second nature to sacramentalise everything. Hardly surprising therefore that sex and love have a sacramental side to them. To put it in other words, I will never put in the same basket the sex acted out in a porn movie (to give but one example), and the love-making between two persons in a committed relationship. The acts in the selves may be identical, but the context is totally different (as would be other behaviour related to the sexual acts). If Catholic morality cannot see this distinction, then such a morality is seriously flawed and must be questioned. And if this same flawed morality is what occasions the strong reactions even to such a simple gesture as holding hands, then it is clear that the root problem is homophobia. Let’s call a spade a spade, and cease to spiritualise the anti-gay rhetoric.
Love and holiness
Why am I making so much fuss about holding hands and the issue of celibacy/chastity? Well, they’re two facets of the same issue. As a Christian, love is the central dynamic of human existence and meaning. To grow and perfect ourself in love is a necessity if we are to come to the fullness of what it means to be human. Life’s all about relationships. – and love, which is not equal to romance, though it would include it. I’m talking of loving relationships, relationships that draw the best out of us as human beings, relationships that motivate us to move forward in holiness. If, as human beings, we are called to wholeness/holiness (see my last post Envisioning wholeness), then the demands made by some groups in society to LGBT folk – basically, to suppress all expression of love – surely runs counter to this. Holding hands and making love are points along a continuum. There is room for debate for what is acceptable in a public as opposed to a private setting, as long as it is applied equally to straight and gay persons. On the other, it is unacceptable in civilised society to threaten persons – whether physically or psychologically/spiritually – simply for the fact that they are gay. To stand up, and not to stand for homophobia in whichever form it comes, is as important a battle as that played out in the legislature and in courts.
Gay Theology without Apology (Gary D Comstock)
Freedom, Glorious Freedom: The Spiritual Journey to the Fullness of Life for Gays, Lesbians, and Everybody Else (John McNeill)