Yesterday I posted about what Father John Harvey, OSFS, said and did with regard to what we two call "mixed-inclination marriages." Today I am elaborating as to how his thoughts apply to our own mixed-inclination marriage, and, from my perspective through peer and pastoral counselling, as to the present and future needs of the Church in this regard.
Update (29 December 2013): As always, our testimony is our testimony, and, as a reminder, Catholics don't believe in cloning. Nothing in the discussion below is meant to subtract from pastoral attention for the celibate majority of Catholics who have sought support for living chastely with SSA. We two devote a great deal of energy to advocating for their needs. My plea to an ecumenical audience for better overall pastoral care for individuals and families affected by SSA would, if received, very much benefit our single friends with SSA. And we two speak out loudly against the reckless assumption that persons with SSA have some sort of obligation to pursue opposite-sex attraction and marriage; one of our most popular presentations is on "Twelve Ways a Catholic Pastoral Approach to SSA Differs from a Classical 'Ex-Gay' Approach."
Furthermore, we are acutely aware of the overwhelming pain resulting from mixed-inclination marriages where full consent was not obtained and unresolved impediments have led to tragedy. Our peer and pastoral counselling includes assistance to married folk who have to ask, "What now?" -- and seek help either alone or with a spouse. Part of sharing our own model of an exceptional, sacramental mixed-inclination marriage is to help prevent and alleviate impediments to marriage or to marital intimacy.
Over several days of January 2009, in conjunction with his second-last visit to Toronto, Father Harvey spoke to various audiences with testimonials from various members of Courage. At a clergy luncheon The Sheepcat spoke alongside Father and introduced me as his fiancée (though I already knew many people present from my pro-life and pro-family work). On the following day we had a premarital counselling meeting with Father Harvey as an adjunct to the preparation we were doing through our parish. Based on our personal interactions as well as my studies of his writings, I am highlighting a few points.
1. Whether to marry
Father Harvey correctly resisted the 1960s proposition that what we now call same-sex attraction be an absolute impediment to marriage. We're grateful for his convictions! We have encountered people who believed we weren't eligible for the sacrament through which we're working out our salvation. We can't imagine not being married to each other.
To use Father Harvey's language from The Homosexual Person, The Sheepcat does and continues to have "clear signs of homosexuality." Yet The Sheepcat also had "a strong physical attraction for his fiancée, and control over all sexual tendencies." These he has maintained in marriage. He has also sustained such significant inclination change that, should I predecease him, I would think he should remarry.
Marriage is suiting us very well. We have made the goal holiness, not inclination change. I am not weirded out by The Sheepcat's ongoing SSA, and I do not pressure him to be like other men. Actually, my back gets up when people misunderstand our testimony and ask, "When did he go straight?" The Sheepcat is an exceptional husband, and sharing his experience of SSA is just another part of our SPICE-y intimacy.
Where it seems that Father Harvey and his contemporaries left a gap is with precisely how a couple should be guided given that a particular person with SSA is eligible for marriage.
2. What to expect
I'm an opposite-sex-attracted woman and, despite my many sins against chastity, I was a virgin until marriage.
Like many men who've had sex with men, The Sheepcat had once been very promiscuous. He had almost a decade of celibacy before our wedding, much more than the one year Father Harvey considered a minimum.
I had been The Sheepcat's first girlfriend. I had no doubt that our sexual attraction was mutual. We were very much looking forward to a full marriage.
Still, I feared that I might be less pleasing to my future husband because I didn't know as much about a male body as would a man. As a girl I'd seen Joyce Brothers, interviewing a lesbian, describe sex between two women as like having sex with a mirror image of oneself – as if two same-sex partners would automatically know each other's preferences. Actually, The Sheepcat explained, same-sex partners can be mistaken about one another if they hold such narcissistic assumptions. Besides, God intended our initial unfamiliarity as part of the sexual complementarity He designed.
Father Harvey did not directly address my worry; but, given the difference between homosexual and heterosexual practices, he did spend some time on the moral theology of ensuring that our sexual union was mutual. Father Harvey also gave valuable advice about affective sexual complementarity, to which we regularly refer with gratitude and humour.
3. Who to see
In writing Father Harvey recommended that the individual leaving a gay lifestyle entirely give up his friendships and milieu. I did not know at the time of our meeting that he had said this, and I'm not sure if he continued to believe that to the end. Where a man had betrayed his wife (or a wife her husband) during the marriage, we might need to recommend a radical approach like that. In any case, first The Sheepcat on his own and then we two as a couple chose differently. The Sheepcat and I don't go to gay bars, but we do happily live in Parkdale, a.k.a. West Queer West.
For The Sheepcat many sexual encounters or relationships had led to enduring non-sexual friendships – this is typical among gay men – which we both continue to cherish. For some people struggling with chastity, maintaining connections with sexually active gay friends could be "near occasions of sin." For others, to disrupt longstanding friendships because of one's own conversion would go against everything the New Evangelization stands for. Patrick Sullivan has spoken powerfully about maintaining continuity with the good aspects of one's past, and we heartily concur.
4. What to tell
In person, when we asked about how much of The Sheepcat's past we should be discussing, Father Harvey advised that I be left innocent of the details about who, what, where, when, how, and how often. Again, we can see why he would give that recommendation. Certainly a spouse or prospective spouse should not impose these details; the other should not press out of mere curiosity; and neither should the details be relished.
In our case, it is valuable for me to understand much more of what occurred than it is necessary for us to declare publicly – especially because, as we realised after the wedding, my husband is a trauma survivor. If we were not able to discern and name the origins of certain after-effects, I might blame myself for suffering that I did not cause. Instead, I am a true partner in ongoing healing. These are very delicate matters, and I would encourage clergy and clinicians to make recommendations on a case-by-case, need-to-know basis.
5. How to deal
Father Harvey, as I mentioned yesterday, was very familiar with what are now called "sexual orientation change efforts" (SOCE). His approach was relatively balanced in that he believed that reparative therapy should be an available option, but he refused to consider it mandatory.
At the time of our engagement five years ago, The Sheepcat was still experiencing what he terms his "second puberty" and he was still in psychoanalytic therapy. It was not reparative therapy, but the anxiety which was the focus of clinical attention peaked in my presence. Yet The Sheepcat sought out opportunities to pray, play, and work with me, his psychologist correctly interpreted the ambivalence, The Sheepcat and I fell deeply in love, and we two became agents of healing for one another.
Some people in the Church are grossly skeptical about The Sheepcat's transition; others treat him as if he is "cured." The latter bias is even more offensive than the first. It smacks of the tendency to believe that everything about SSA is an individual's problem to solve – through means that Catholic bioethics would actually deem "extraordinary treatment." Chaste same-sex-attracted individuals who've experienced sexual inclination change that is either total (which is rare) or significant enough for them to discern marriage (which is reasonably common) are still very much the minority among those pursuing chastity and experiencing SSA; and people with SSA at any place along this spectrum should all be offered pastoral care and an environment free of unjust discrimination. Which means that loving people with SSA is a task for the whole body of Christ.
Father Harvey was enthusiastic about our marriage; he was grateful for how God was working in our lives. He was also realistic, and suggested that The Sheepcat maintain his connection to the Courage Apostolate. My understanding is that some members have "graduated." For us two, pastoral care for SSA – along with related speaking, writing, training, and consulting – is our shared life's mission.
Father Harvey did meet with us again as a married couple, but in a group setting, and he saw that we were happy. That meal was our last opportunity to speak with him in this lifetime, because he died the following year. Whenever it has been suitable for my theology courses, I have connected my assignments to pastoral care for SSA, and this fall I was thrilled to learn more about Father Harvey's early sources and the emergence of his pastoral thought prior to the formal establishment of Courage. The Sheepcat and I continue to hope for a cause for Father's canonization.
Had Father Harvey lived, I would have been very comfortable explaining to him where his advice fit and where we had chosen to diverge from it. In the Latin Rite Catholic tradition, the spouses are the ministers of the sacrament of marriage, so we do need to exercise our own authority. Father Harvey was very interested in people's stories and I think he would have been interested in how, notwithstanding a very odd background to our marriage and many trials, things came together so well for us.
Since Father Harvey's death, Exodus International has fallen apart, and for good reason. One thing that Protestant ministries under its umbrella got right, though, was the pastoral care of couples in mixed-inclination marriages as couples. Going forward, the Catholic Church needs to develop in this area.
Some persons with SSA seek pastoral assistance only after marriage. They may not yet feel able to share their experiences with their spouses, or those spouses might not yet feel willing to seek assistance together.
Where both members of the mixed-inclination couple are informed and have the good will, the support that awaits them should not be entirely on the basis of "person with SSA" and "spouse." The nature of marriage tells us differently. The Sheepcat and I gladly live with his SSA as one flesh. Given the gaps we encountered in pastoral care at the outset, we are now sharing with the Church what we've learned in the past five years.
Postscript (29 December 2013): Gabriel Blanchard, who blogs at Mudblood Catholic, has rightly called for a better understanding of "mixed orientation marriages." While we prefer the term "mixed inclination marriages," we agree that more needs to be elaborated on the topic. We're happy to help!
For an excellent discussion of mixed-orientation marriage from the perspective of a Reformed Christian who is a same-sex-attracted husband, and great feedback from the comboxers, please read Kyle Keating.
Few testimonies are publicly available about mixed-inclination marriages which incorporate a Catholic understanding of the Sacraments – so we do want to share our own experiences as well as the pastoral insights we have gained through assisting others. Sometimes the Internet isn't the best forum for these discussions; I for one was inhibited early on when The Sheepcat's telling of our courtship-and-engagement story resulted in a blogged response (thankfully no longer online) that warned naive single women off men with SSA looking for trophy wives, who would then face the risk of disease, adultery, and sexual disappointment. Nothing could be further from my own reality! While the truth is setting me free, I've learned that nuance is more suited to books.
Thank you for reading, sharing, and commenting about what you'd like us to address about this topic in the future.