If you asked me to describe him to you, the first word to come to mind would probably be sincere. I say that because it’s the first word I used to describe him to myself, and I went so far as to define it: sincere means more than merely honest; it means well-meaning. Wanting to do right. My friend displays that heart in huge quantities through hard work, an unusually sweet openness, patience, good nature, great warmth, and loyalty.
It’s one of the reasons I first loved him. There’s a disarming sympathy about him; there’s an eagerness, which sometimes looks like a painful anxiousness, to please. I’ve loved him almost as long as I’ve known him—loved him as you love someone who reminds you of yourself at your most likable, and at your most vulnerable.
He’s not the first gay person I’ve known and loved. But he is the first gay person I knew and loved as a person before I knew he was gay.
This sets him apart from my gay relatives, all of whom—though I love them dearly—are intense enough to leave me a little shy. Perhaps because of my comparatively timid personality, I hadn’t really thought through whether I had walls up against getting close to same-sex-attracted friends and family. Not until those walls shuddered and failed against the sudden, forceful expansion of tenderness.
For the first time, looking at my friend, I experienced—not just empathized with, but fully experienced—why people on the other side of the gay rights wars are fighting. I understood the power building up in my chest, ready to blow at any provocation. It was the power of five fiercely protective words: “Nobody better hurt my friend.”
But, said a ballsy little voice in the back of my head, you’re Catholic. What about saving his soul?
Yeah, said the fierce power. I’m Catholic. Now remember what I went through to join the Church.
There’s nothing in this world that schooled me more in empathy than the process of converting to Catholicism. I left my Protestant family and friends with a keen sense of betrayal when I was confirmed. They left letters taped to my door; they phoned and argued with me, which they called debating and I called fighting. They tried calm persuasion, emotional persuasion, anger, attack, surprise attack, insistence while slamming fists into palms, and tears, and when none of that worked, they made sure I knew they were brokenhearted. Though we’ve made peace and moved on, I’m rather bitterly aware of how not compelling those tactics are, of how much resentment they create.
As important of a life lesson as that was, it’s not one I care to see inflicted on my friend.
I have learned through severe pain that it’s possible to be very devout, very sure of oneself, even very sincere, and very anxious to save someone—and very wrong. That has made me pretty agnostic about my own opinions and even, to some extent, my beliefs.
I have also learned to loathe the polarization over the gay rights question. One pole overlooks the fact that the law was made for humans and not the other way around. Respect for human dignity, care for human needs, must come first. The other pole more or less insists that expressions of love cannot be wrong, which would be a funny joke if that idea didn’t destroy so many lives. Hell, adultery can be an expression of love. Where do you draw the line?
Every conflict seems to confirm the poles in their own errors and their mutual hatred.
I believe in the Church’s moral teaching. But that teaching includes these lines, lifted directly from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
[M]en and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies... must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. (par. 2358)
And as frustrated as I’ve sometimes been with gay rights activists for dirty political tactics, hypocritical name-calling and shaming, the self-righteousness with which some of them attack anyone who attempts to champion morality—they’re hardly entirely wrong. Withholding natural expressions of love and loyalty from gay friends and family is unjust discrimination. Speaking truth without first, last, and always showing love is a failure of respect, compassion, and sensitivity.
If my friend asks what I believe, I’ll tell him. I’ll do my best to give a balanced picture. Maybe something like, “The Catholic Church calls any pursuit of sexual pleasure sin except when it’s one man, one woman, married, loving and respectful on both sides, and entirely open to life. It’s a tough standard; I have a hard time living up to it, and I’m straight, married, and childless! My friends are all over the map, and I do mean all over it. Anyhow, the Church warns us not to discriminate with our love. You know I love you, right?”
In the meantime, I’ve prayed for him as long as I’ve loved him, which was a good year before he used the words my boyfriend in my hearing. Was he afraid he couldn’t trust my response?
“Aw,” I said. “What’s his name?”
Then I’ll pray for Adam, too. I hope he’s good to you, friend.
* name changed