Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Sublimation = Starving At the Buffet Table

While I was a part of Courage, I often heard talk of sublimating or redirecting our sexual passions.

Since leaving Courage, I have been in conversation with a few of my friends from the Church who have suggested that if I was so suppression-focused, maybe I was going about carrying the "cross of homosexuality" in the wrong way. That maybe, if I was focused on fixing or suppressing my sexuality, I was doing it wrong.

The suggestion is that sublimation, not suppression, should be my goal for my sexual passions as a homosexual person - that basically I should try to funnel my sexual energy into other pathways such as caring for the poor, or developing strong friendships, or some form of religious expression. I've tried for so long to understand this idea of sublimation vs suppression, but in the end it feels like in this case sublimation is just a fancy word meant to hide the goal of suppression in nicer-sounding language.

In a way, I feel like a person who has been told to take the hunger she has that drives her to eat food, and to use that hunger to smell all the scents that the world has to offer - but hunger doesn't work like that, hunger is there to tell us that we need something and if we try to satisfy our hunger by smelling the rain in the trees or even by smelling good food, we are going to find ourselves frustrated. Yes, at first, all those smells will seem wonderful - but eventually those smells will become torturous as we realize that we are never getting closer to actually tasting or swallowing what we have smelled.

I'm not saying that we will die, necessarily, if we don't engage in sexual activity. But I am saying that we are not going to satisfy our desire for that deeper intimacy with one person by creating connections of service or friendship with more and more people. Instead we are going to increase our feelings of isolation and loneliness as we increase the numbers in the crowd around us, because in all this crowd of wonderful friends and acquaintances we have not gone to the depth of connection that we truly desire with a single one. It's like going to a buffet but never planning to eat.

More friends, more networking, more social and service-based connections are great - but just like the smell of fresh rain in the morning, these will not satisfy my desire for true intimacy. I am longing, like most of the single world, for that one person I can love completely and give everything. For that human person whom I can stand naked with in the garden of paradise, for that person without whom even paradise itself cannot be but lonely for my heart. Not even the closest friendship can fill that desire for a life partner.

If We're Not Trying to Fix It, Then It's Not A Disorder

Saturday morning, I spent some time chatting online with other ex-gay survivors. One of the questions that was raised really made me think: if the publicized goal of a program is for homosexual persons to obtain celibacy (complete refraining from any sexual activity), and that group or program does not advertise or publicly suggest conversion therapies, isn't that something better than and different from an ex-gay program that focuses on conversion?

I've had people attempt to "remind" me, since I publicly came out as leaving Courage, that Courage does not advocate (at least not publicly) conversion therapy but rather advocates a 12 Step approach to celibacy. Yet all the while I was a part of Courage, and these individuals also, none of us were surprised to be reading about various conversion therapies that were encouraged, and every single one of us was praying that we would experience a cure.

I'm going to attempt to break it down so it makes sense.

If we agree with the Catholic Church that homosexuality is "intrinsically disordered" and all homosexual activities are therefor sinful, or if we decide that homosexuality is similar to an addiction or an illness, then how does it make sense for us to not seek to "cure" homosexuality?

So you see the problem. These programs, programs like Courage, claim that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered. They then claim that they don't seek a cure or engage in conversion therapy, that they just use 12 Steps to help people refrain from sexual activity.

But for the entire time I was a member of Courage, I never met another Courage member who wasn't also reading some other ex-gay literature on the side, or going to counseling with the goal of converting their sexuality, or attempting in some other way to change their orientation. All of us were hoping for a miracle, because no one wants to be ill forever and we all viewed our sexuality as an illness. As something wrong.

If, however, we agree that it is wrong to attempt to convert or change one's sexual orientation, then we are by definition agreeing that there is nothing wrong with the varying sexual orientations that exist. Because if there was something wrong, we would seek to correct it.

There is so much more that I still want to talk about and that I am still working on figuring out. I don't think that so many years of struggling to "fix" my sexuality is something that I can properly explain or heal from in a period of six months - and it has been six months now, since I quit Courage. I feel like I am only beginning to unravel some of the falsehoods I believed, some of the feelings and thoughts that drove me into the arms of the ex-gay movement, some of the fears. I also feel like everyone around me expects me to just be okay now, or to just move on with life like none of these past years ever happened.

But I can't do that. It takes time to work through these questions, and a million "ah ha" moments when things click into place. I still have friends who are priests and religious sisters and conservative Catholics, I still have friends who are members of Courage, and I still struggle with feelings of failure and the pain of being judged and disconnected from various friends as they realize that I'm not coming back to the fold.

That being said, I don't want to be depressing, and one of my next posts will likely be about going to PRIDE as I was recently blessed to attend a Pride celebration in a neighboring town. I am trying to keep a balance between fluff and depth, and between the joy of coming out and the pain of leaving the ex-gay movement.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Sexual Orientation vs Sexual Addiction

I used to get annoyed at how these twelve steps and five goals came up at every (online) Courage meeting, because I was really struggling to see how they intersected with my life.

Courage takes its Twelve Steps straight from AA. Now, don't get me wrong - these 12 steps work to help people with drug and alcohol addictions overcome those addictions, and that is a wonderful thing. But homosexuality is not an addiction - I realize now, using the twelve steps to try to escape homosexuality is like using the twelve steps to try to escape the fact that your hair grows in mouse brown. It just isn't going to work.

I mean, all I have to do is look at the first step - homosexuality has taken over my life? Excuse me? All that has taken over my life is my attempts to avoid ever identifying as a lesbian!!! "No." I would say, "I'm not a lesbian. I'm a woman who struggles with same-sex attraction. It's like any other addiction."

But is homosexuality really an addiction?

Consider the fact that I am a virgin - I've only ever gone as far as kissing, and all of those kisses save one were with guys.

Despite those kisses, I've never been attracted to guys. I've never actually enjoyed a kiss, unless you count the one kiss I exchanged with an incredibly beautiful young woman years ago.

So, let me ask you, how many alcoholics are there out there who have never, not even once, tasted alcohol? How many heroine addicts are there who have never tried heroine? How many self-injurers are there out there who have never self-injured?

Yes, sometimes I think about kissing a woman that I find attractive. Sometimes I even think about making love to a beautiful woman. Sometimes I wake up from those dreams that leave me aching, physically aching, longing to touch and be touched by a woman. What lesbian doesn't?

Now, some will attempt to say that it's in the thinking about it - the fact that I am drawn to women and have those thoughts at all - that indicate an addiction, a powerlessness that needs to be addressed.

But let me ask you - what straight woman doesn't think, sometimes, about kissing a man she finds attractive? What straight woman never thinks about making love to a man? What straight woman never has a dream that leaves her longing for intimacy with a man? And do we accuse her of being addicted to straight sex, simply because there are times when she wants it?

Isn't that a normal part of our sexuality - be we hetero, homo, or bi sexual - to sometimes want the form of sexual contact  to which we are naturally attracted?

Now I'm not denying that some individuals may become addicted to sexual activity - sexual addictions do exist. But a sexual orientation is not the same thing as a sexual addiction, not at all. I don't think about sex all the time, or even most of the time. I don't want to have sex with every woman I see (I mean, for starters, I think that would be exhausting, don't you?), or even with all of the women that I find attractive.

All I want, like any other person, is to be allowed to pursue the occasional fulfilling and romantic relationships. To seek my soul mate, my spouse, my other half.

And yes, I do have a strong suspicion that my other half is a woman. I'll bet she's beautiful, too.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Why DO we Crucify Ourselves?

A while back, when I was really struggling with everything, I painted a picture to show how I felt. It depicts what is supposed to be a human heart, encompassing a black lambda with a rainbow aura, and that heart is hanging on a cross.

I used this picture for something else artsy in my hometown (so if you are from the same place I am, perhaps you will recognize this picture), something that didn't have to be signed. I'm glad that it got out there a little bit because even though it's not well-painted, and despite the fact that I am not brave enough to claim it as mine, it means something to me that I painted this image.

Painting it was the first time I really gave expression to how I felt as a member of Courage. That pain spent so long locked up inside of me, and when I painted this picture it was almost compulsive - I had to paint it, all I had was a visual image of how to express what I was feeling.

At that time, words were not and could not be enough. I felt like, just by painting this image - even though I tucked it away in my prayer space, even though I've never really shown it off - somehow, by expressing it, it lessened my pain just a little.

See, in order to crucify my sexuality, I had to crucify my heart also. I've often prayed to God, begging Him to take my heart down from the cross.

I mean, didn't His Son come to be crucified, so that we wouldn't have to be crucified?

It seems to me now, that as long as I was trying to crucify my sexuality, God couldn't take my heart down from that cross, because I was the one driving the nails in, I was the one holding myself there. Our sexuality is one of the vehicles through which we express human love, love which belongs to the heart.

So as long as I was determined to crucify a part of my heart, my whole heart was stuck there, and slowly dying on that cross along with my sexuality was the rest of my emotional being.

It makes me think of a Tori Amos song I like, so I'll end this posting with that song:

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Divine Mercy Sunday

It's the Catholics who don't say dumb things, the ones who aren't so obviously homophobic, that I have to watch for. The ones who keep reminding me that it's not a sin unless I ever act out on it. The ones who tell me they are praying for me, and encourage me to read various authors who have also experienced what I am experiencing now.

But maybe they're right. Maybe if I read one more book, or try one more prayer, one more novena ... maybe if enough people pray this one with me, if I shed enough tears while I'm praying, if I'm desperate enough or if I believe enough, it'll work this time?

The really pathetic part is that I actually mean that right now. I spent this afternoon at a deanery-wide celebration for Divine Mercy Sunday.

Starting Good Friday, every day until the Sunday following Easter Sunday, we pray a chaplet of Divine Mercy. The Sunday following Easter Sunday, the last day of the novena, is called Divine Mercy Sunday. We gather together, pray the chaplet in community, confessions are heard, and afterwards usually people socialize.

So I went to confession. I felt like I was betraying myself, when I said that I might be at least sorry that I wasn't sorry. I realized immediately afterward, that what I had just agreed to really made no sense at all... either I am sorry or I am not, but now, I don't know which it is.

I also spoke to a friend of mine who is a priest. I've agreed to pray another novena, but this time I don't really know what I'm praying for. A sign, maybe? What am I supposed to do, to feel, right now?

If my new attempt at self-acceptance is so weak that two hours spent around the right kind of Catholic can undo it all, how strong am I really? Am I really on my own side, or not?

If I was at Madonna House, or OLSWA, or in any one of the convents I've visited, would this even be an issue? If I went to Madonna House, or to OLSWA, if I surrounded myself with strong Catholics like the ones I was around today... the kind who pray all day every day, like we did when I was at OLSWA, would I maybe not even care about same sex attraction anymore?

No, that can't be completely right. I remember being very frustrated when I was at school, because I kept feeling strongly attracted to some of the girls in my dorm, and it was awkward. I mean, how could I ask the other girls in my house to dress more modestly even if there's no boys around, because otherwise it's more tempting and confusing for me?

I don't think I can properly express the turmoil that is inside of me at this moment.

I wonder how normal it is to backtrack, to feel doubt, or to just feel paralyzed because I really don't want to move one way or the other... I think, even from reading this post, it seems obvious that I am leaning more towards embracing my sexuality than towards continued denial... except that it terrifies me to consider not being found in the very center, in the heart, of the Church.

I wonder how I would feel if I spent a few weeks away from all the external pressures, with just time to myself to think and to examine my feelings... wow I wish such a thing were possible right now.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Lately, I've been exploring LGBTQ culture.

I've watched about six movies, and enjoyed all of them. My favourite so far would have to be either "Loving Annabelle" or "Better Than Chocolate". But if you're looking for something light and humorous, I'd suggest "But I'm A Cheerleader", and if you're looking for something that will make you cry, I'd suggest "Prayers for Bobby".

I've listened to a LOT of songs, and I have a new favourite artist, with a new favourite song:

There's something to be said for celebrating each part of who we are through music, movies, books, art... I have to say, though I mostly just enjoy normal Canadian culture, whatever that is... and though I definitely do not define myself entirely by my sexuality... well, it is an important part of what defines me, and I have enjoyed exploring that aspect of my identity recently.

It's especially nice to listen to uplifting LGBTQ music, to watch movies and read books that portray LGBTQ persons in a positive light. It's nice to see role models in the artists, to see myself in some of the characters, to watch a romantic comedy and not just be reminded that romance can have a happy ending, but a lesbian romance specifically can have that perfect ending, too.

I've had some major struggles this week, but I wanted to focus on the positive in this post. I have really wanted to post a Jen Foster song on my FB profile, but I'm still half-closeted, so I am compensating by posting a link to one of her songs here. Another good song of her's is In Between Poses:

There'll be later posts for me to discuss how Easter went, how my second PFLAG meeting went, how it went coming out to various friends and family members and how certain individuals have reacted to my quitting Courage. For now, I hope you'll just enjoy the positives of LGBTQ culture with me, something to which I have too long been blind.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

my experience, my grandmother, my fears

I was 13, lounging on my dad's green sofa, phone to my ear. My friend was on the other line, and we were watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

"ooooh, Angel is so hot." she moaned. "Don't you think he's hot?"

"Yeah, he's definitely hot." I agreed. But I was thinking, How can you look at Angel when Willow is on the same screen? Look at her smile, her eyes, her long red hair... she is perfect. But I didn't say anything, as I was pretty sure that she'd find my thoughts discomfiting at best.

Grade nine came, and I was starting to wonder if I was gay. I was also a burgeoning social activist, so I talked a friend of mine into attending the local Gay Pride Parade with me near the end of that year. At the parade, photographs were taken.

I spoke with my favorite grandmother that night on msn. I told her I'd been to the gay pride parade that day, as an ally to my friends. She responded by saying that I would go to hell if I was friends with "those people".

Later, when my picture turned up in the paper, the whole school became awkward around me until I assured them that I was just an ally, not really one of "them". I knew by then, I could never admit to being one of "those people" because if I was, then what would my grandmother do? What would my classmates do?

I heard a story from my brother that year, about a guy who came out to his parents. I had always been impressed with this particular young man's family, with how close knit and loving they appeared. The night he came out to his parents, however, they told him that they didn't know him and that they didn't have a son anymore. They told him that they didn't love him, and threw him out of the house.

Grade 10 came, and I made friends with a young man who was very much out of the closet. He is one of the most wonderful people I have ever known, and also one of the bravest. I know he was harassed at school, the other kids could be so cruel towards him, it was unreal.

I don't think I ever made a conscious decision to stay closeted. At least, I wasn't aware of making the decision. I was pretty willing to appear to be the most liberal chick out there. But I never wanted anyone to think that *I* was gay.

I pretended to be interested when my girlfriends sent me nude or near-nude pictures of male actors. I never admitted that I was jealous when two of my friends started dating, never admitted that my hopes went soaring when they broke up later and she suggested that she might be bisexual.

But I did know that I could not be homosexual. I mean, I was as much a lesbian then as I am now - so very much one - but look at what it would cost me! What it could cost me. I could drop even lower on the high school social totem pole. I could lose the love of my family. Most importantly I knew that my grandmother would not accept or love me anymore.

It is all so much more complex than what I am describing. But these things were a huge part of my decision, later, to embrace a Church that promised to change me, to heal me of my gayness. To make me straight. I would have traded all the blood in my veins if I could just be straight. To trade my integrity, my peace, when I was so unhappy - it was easy.

Here, take my integrity. I don't need to be honest. I just need to be straight. I'm already unloveable enough, my own mother stopped loving me (another story for a later post) - I don't need another strike against me. Being a lesbian would definitely equal that strike.

My grandmother is coming to visit, all the way from the UK, for this Easter. I just found out today, she'll be here early next week. She's frail, elderly, and still one of the most important people to my mind. I love her. She taught me how to pray.

I wonder if I'll find the courage to tell her, how her words when I was 13 hurt me. I wonder if I need to tell her. I wonder if I should tell her that I'm one of "those people", that I have never been physically attracted towards a man but that I have very vivid dreams and fantasies about other women all the time, no matter how hard I try not to. I wonder if she would even remember what she typed to me in that msn conversation all those years ago. I wonder if she would forgive me for being a lesbian, or if the stress of finding out would give her a stroke or heart attack.

How can I tell her? How can I not? I don't know what I'll do.