On the Celibacy Conversation

Over at Crisis Magazine, Austin Ruse complains about the press that “the New Homophiles” have been getting lately, including this story at the Washington Post.

“The New Homophiles,” in case you didn’t know, is Ruse’s term for gay Christians who, in his words, are “young-to-youngish Catholics and Protestants announcing their unabashed and unashamed ‘gayness,’ yet announcing also their fidelity to Christian sexual morality.” That is, they don’t have gay sex. Some remain celibate, some even marry people of the opposite sex. But they continue to identify as gay.

Now, I’m not going to slag off anyone, gay or straight, who upholds a call to celibacy. I mean, I think sex and sexual relationships are good, but I think it can be good to forego those things if you have a good reason. And while I don’t see a good reason to require celibacy anywhere in the Christian Right’s arguments against homosexuality, if you think celibacy is your path to holiness, by all means, go for it.

Damon Linker, responding to Ruse, writes, “In the end, the problem for Ruse and like-minded Catholic conservatives is that homosexuals refuse to disappear” (h/t Bill Lindsey). Reading his words, one gets the idea that there’s something behind the rejection of the New Homophiles, despite their adherence to traditionalist morals. Specifically, it seems like their very existence challenges the easy stories that the Religious Right wants you to believe about homosexuality and the Church.

A few weeks ago, Ryan Anderson, Eric Teetsel, Rob Tisinai, Jeremy Hooper, and Timothy Kincaid had a revealing conversation on this topic on twitter. Even though Anderson and Teetsel seemed to endorse a New Homophile stance on homosexuality, the course of the conversation revealed how little they had thought about what that stance entails.

[NOTE: This will be a little hard to reconstruct, since Anderson seems to have deleted several of his posts from that day. At least I can’t find them—if you know how to recapture tweets that have disappeared, let me know.]

It started when Anderson posted this story, by a lesbian who upholds traditional Christian teaching against gay relationships. Hooper criticized the posting, then Teetsel jumped into the fray. After a bit of back-and-forth, Tisinai wrote:

To which Anderson responded that neither he nor Teetsel were arguing that gay people shouldn’t have relationships.

Since Anderson and Teetsel were arguing that gay couples shouldn’t have sex, that seems to me like a nod to the New Homophiles who, despite their celibacy, emphasize connection, relationship, and community.

Tisinai and Kincaid pushed Anderson and Teetsel on how, exactly, these celibate relationships would look:

Kincaid asked again, without ever getting an answer, whether these relationships could contain romance and/or sexual desire. Unfortunately, the conversation got derailed when Teetsel made this (strikingly wrong) comment:

That’s bad, but I want to focus here on the questions that didn’t get answered.

Because at the same time that Anderson and Teetsel were saying that gay people should have non-sexual relationships, Teetsel was saying this:

See the issue?

You can’t ask two people who relate to each other sexually to have a non-sexual relationship. You can’t tell two people who are smoldering with attraction for each other to keep their relationship non-sexual. I don’t mean that it’s a bad idea—I mean it’s literally impossible. Even if they abstain from sex, the sexual nature of their relationship persists. You can tell them not to have sex. You can tell them not to have a relationship. But if sexuality is something that’s integral to your entire identity—as Teetsel says it is—and that forms the basis of a given relationship, then you can’t just cut it out of that relationship and still keep that relationship intact.

For example, my wife and I could never “live as brother and sister.” I mean, if there were some good reason for us to never again have sex, that would suck but we could do it. But our relationship would still be sexual, because that’s its nature. It’s built on sexual attraction, and comprises a shared sexual history, and if we had to stop having sex for some reason then we would experience a shared sense of sacrifice and loss. If it’s true for us, it’s true for gay couples, as well.

So when Anderson/Teetsel say that gay people should still have relationships, Kincaid and Tisinai are right to ask how they envision that happening. What would those relationships look like? Would they be with men to whom those men are attracted? With women to whom they are not? Are they likely be as deep as what I experience with my wife (and what Hooper & Tisinai experience with their husbands)?

Generally, in the Christian tradition, we don’t encourage people to form deep, meaningful, *sexual* relationships with people they’re forbidden from having sex with. Thus, if a married man finds himself attracted to a woman who’s not his wife, we’d tell him to guard himself from getting too close to her. Why? Because that would be considered an occasion to sin, and therefore something to avoid. That means that a straight man’s relationships to women to whom he might become sexually attracted are necessarily less deep, less meaningful than his relationship to his wife. Which is okay, because the good of marriage makes that sacrifice worthwhile.

But Anderson and Teetsel don’t want that good available to gay people. Nor, seemingly, would they encourage gay people to form (deep) relationships with those to whom they’re attracted, or to whom they might feel a romantic or sexual connection. So there’s something appalling in the breezy way those guys say, “But you can still have relationships.”

And in the way Teetsel says “Celibacy is a gift.” As the conversation went on, Teetsel compared a gay person’s decision to remain celibate to his own abstaining from sexual acts before marriage: “I abstained from sexual intercourse for many years before marriage,” he wrote. “Was hard. Wasn’t torture.” Of course, for at least part of the time he was abstaining from the act Teetsel was building a sexual relationship.

This is why, though I often disagree with them, I appreciate the writing of the New Homophiles: there’s a realistic sense of loss when they talk about their celibacy, an acknowledgement that they’re giving up something that goes beyond sexual acts. There’s a recognition, in other words, that what they’re giving up is a form of relationship—in fact, the most important type of human relationship most of us will find in our lives. Teetsel and Anderson don’t seem to get that.

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