Catholics and Queer Theory

John Corvino, the co-author of my latest book, takes on Catholics like Michael Hannon, who in First Things essay “Against Heterosexuality” try to use queer theory to dismantle homosexuality as a “real” category in Commonweal (John is an ex-Catholic and an ex-seminarian as he makes clear):

“Hannon argues that religious conservatives should embrace queer theorists’ view that sexual orientation is a social construction, rather than a natural and inevitable feature of persons. Furthermore, they should stop categorizing anyone as gay, because doing so organizes that person’s sexual identity around a particular temptation to sin, leading him to believe that he needs that sin in order to be fulfilled. Finally, and most important, they should stop categorizing anyone as heterosexual, because doing so lets people off the hook as “normal,” thus blinding them to their own sin. . .

Hannon, who is a candidate for religious life with the Norbertine order, is hardly the first Catholic to invoke queer theory in support of conservative causes. Back in the late 1990s, when the essentialist/constructionist debate was still fresh, my old sparring partner Maggie Gallagher made a similar point at a Georgetown University conference on “Homosexuality and American Public Life.””

Small point, I don’t recall making this point in that conference but it’s years ago and I don’t still have a copy of that talk (and neither does John).

In any case I agree with John Corvino more than I disagree with him in this piece on his main point, although he seems to interpret a discussion of how Christians should think about same-sex attraction and the people who have it with an attempt to determine how everyone thinks about it.

Even if the broader culture accepts homosexuality as a social fact, which is clearly the case whether Hannon likes it or not, that does not settle how Catholics should think about it.

Here’s my view: When Christians tell me that homosexuality is “socially constructed” and therefore not a “real” permanent feature of human existence, I generally respond “I know gay people exist the same way that I know that Methodists exist. I’ve met them.”

In other words, not all categories that are real are founded on fixed unchangeable essences. Sexual orientation as a concept is a way of organizing “given reality” (sexual attraction) into a communal identity, the strongest kind.  It is therefore not at all like race, and but rather more akin to religion.

I never ever think of myself as a heterosexual, nonetheless my own ideas about my experience of sexuality (“we are born male and female and called to come together in love in this thing called marriage”) are core enough to my identity and my sense of what is required for communal good that I am willing to suffer rather than renounce them, if necessary. They are not positions I hold, they are part of who I am.

Corvino acknowledges that in a gay-affirming culture more people will label their feelings as gay and grow up to live a gay life, which he sees as the great moral advance on the subject and orthodox Catholics see as Not a Good Thing. (Although the openly gay community of priests, brothers, and seminarians in Corvinos’ seminary by his account applauded his coming out).

I do not have strong feelings whether Hannon is right or whether  orthodox gay Catholics like Eve Tushnet are right in thinking she should retain her lesbian identity while committing herself to faithful Christian practice (meaning in her current situation, celibacy).

But as an atheist, that is not the question that John Corvino is thinking about.

11 comments
 Mjb
Mjb

Mmm

One thing is sex does not define oneself; Methodist does because it is a choice you pursue. Love is not defined by pleasure, nor attraction but on enjoining.......natural law is there to guide us. The reason for attraction barely matters, it is the choice we make which will conform us to reality

To insist therwiseo is to deny reason, thus truth, thus god

AustinWadeSoulone
AustinWadeSoulone

When did you know you where Heterosexual, was there a defining moment. Your mind spoke to you and said Humm.... I do not want to have sex with some one of my own sex. or was it just a non-occurrence that when looked upon.... was just the way it was, that was your nature.

What I fail to see is what relevance is it to you or any one else, who you or I have consensual sex with.  You sexual life is your own, to be experienced by you. Unless you wish me to have any say over your sex life then you should not have any say over mine.


I also do not understand why the big fuss about two people of the same sex getting married, is has happened, it will happen and if your god did not want it to occur it would not, as that it has... your god does not seam to have a problem with it, even if you do.


 I have tried for many years to find the reason some people just won't except two people of the same gender loving one other, other than  religion I just dont get the problem.

What I do know is that, they have stood the test of fire and have come to be forged of a strong will and character. You may not agree ,that is the beauty of this nation. But it is the way it is and you can fight it all you wish, and you have the right to do so, but in the end thou will be the castle of sand and the next wave is coming.

raisinhead2
raisinhead2

Maggie, you said "queer theorists’ view that sexual orientation is a social construction". Not really. They view sexual IDENTITY as a social construction. Sexual identity is a way of organising our attractions. Sexual orientation is merely a way of thinking about our attractions which are a given reality over which there is no control. Unlike behaviour which is subject to social and inter relational variation. Like religion. A construction. Being celibate. A social construction.

Sexual attraction is as real as any thing we can point to and describe in our human existence.

Living an authentic life, congruent with ones deeply sense of attraction, is a moral and societal good. Anyone who preaches inauthenticity and delusion is a moral wrong. Like Mr Hannon.

BobNelson
BobNelson

"I never ever think of myself as a heterosexual, nonetheless my own ideas about my experience of sexuality (“we are born male and female and called to come together in love in this thing called marriage”) are core enough to my identity and my sense of what is required for communal good that I am willing to suffer rather than renounce them, if necessary. They are not positions I hold, they are part of who I am."

What remarkably sloppy thinking.   Those feelings you have about marriage and family are not what make you a heterosexual.  Being a heterosexual does not lead you to those opinions.  Conservative politics and/or your Catholic faith lead you to them. 


If someone asks you if you're attracted to men, do you answer, "I believe in traditional marriage"?  It's a non sequitur. 

BobNelson
BobNelson

This article is so badly formatted/punctuated, that it's impossible to tell who is saying what. 


Also, the link to Corvino's article is broken. 

TomBestor
TomBestor

"It is therefore not at all like race, and but rather more akin to religion."


Actually, it's much more akin to handedness.  Left-handedness affects something less than 10% of the population.  Science doesn't know exactly what causes it, but general consensus is that it's a combination of epigenetics and hormone levels in utero establishing a tendency favoring one hand being dominant, which is then reinforced by societal and cultural norms.  My left-handed father-in-law had his left hand tied to his desk in school to encourage right-handed behavior.


In past centuries, lefties were persecuted far worse than this, though.  Left-handedness was seen by some as a sign of demonic possession.  Some were burned at the stake because of it.


People can "choose" to use whatever hand they want to write or throw a ball or brush their teeth.  But try those things with YOUR non-dominant hand and see how graceful and natural they feel.  


Yes, gay people do some very important things in the exact opposite way the vast majority do, but just like we learned to accept left-handedness as a natural variation of human behavior, I hope we can learn to accept homosexuality as a similar natural variation.

sandlapper
sandlapper

Interesting, but  I certainly don't agree that sexual orientation is at all like religion, and I say this as a gay Methodist!  Methodism is a community that I chose to express my religious beliefs.  When I was younger, my beliefs were different and I would not have chosen it. When I am older, I may chose a different religious community or no community at all.  Religious beliefs wax and wane, evolve and change over a lifetime.  


Sexual orientation is so wholly different that I don't understand how a comparison to religion can be made. I am gay whether I participate in a community or not; whether I use the term gay or not.  This is not a concept or a way of organizing given reality.  It is reality, itself.  It is life.  


I'm not surprised that you would say that you never think of yourself as being heterosexual because straight people live in a world of straight people.  You go through puberty surrounded by other kids going through puberty in the same way.  Heterosexuality is to thoroughly and utterly common that most people never give it a thought.  There's no reason to, I suppose.    


A gay person, on the other hand, has a very different life experience.  He goes through puberty experiencing something that seemingly no one around him shares. Certainly for my generation, this was experienced long before any sort of "communal identity" of gay people was formed.  I believe that one of the gifts of being gay is that the relative uniqueness allows us to see clearly how core sexual orientation is to our humanity.   This has nothing to do with any community or identity and everything to do with being human.      

Stephen
Stephen

"I never ever think of myself as a heterosexual, nonetheless my own ideas about my experience of sexuality (“we are born male and female and called to come together in love in this thing called marriage”) are core enough to my identity and my sense of what is required for communal good that I am willing to suffer rather than renounce them, if necessary. They are not positions I hold, they are part of who I am."


Thank you. You've just explained why those of us who are homosexually oriented feel the same about our sexuality (and affectional lives) as you who are heterosexually oriented. IT"S EXACTLY THE SAME.


And plus, my civil marriage impinges on no one else.

Mjb
Mjb

Twisted sister.......I am sorry but sin is sin, objective reality is not gay nor attracted sexually to same sexes.. Yes culture can open doors of the unreal, trees become spirits, but not we Catholics : we are luckily held to toe the line, we can blind ourselves (Sin blinds us ...v Balthasar ) but even then we know. A few, the saints, stare reality straight out, most of wither a little, bend etc to our fantasies, but never are we to do less than examine our life and our communal lives, and there we must be the light gently warning of the doors to nowhere ......

 Mjb
Mjb

Twisted sister.......I am sorry but sin is sin, objective reality is not gay nor attracted sexually to same sexes..

Yes culture can open doors of the unreal, trees become spirits, but not we Catholics : we are luckily held to toe the line, we can blind ourselves

(Sin blinds us ...v Balthasar ) but even then we know.

A few, the saints, stare reality straight out, most of wither a little, bend etc to our fantasies, but never are we to do less than examine our life and our communal lives, and there we must be the light gently warning of the doors to nowhere

......