This is part III of a series introduced in this post.
The last post dealt with the consequences when I fell for the lie that because the church opposes gay marriage, both it and the God it serves rejected me as a gay person and offered no positive direction for my life.
This post will treat the consequences when I fell for an opposite collection of lies.
God loves me no matter what–so I can do whatever I feel is right. Being celibate is unrealistic. Sex is not that big a deal–I’m not walking funny or growing hair on my palms. The Church’s teachings about sex are idealistic, but in the real world it’s more complicated. I’m evolved enough to separate casual sex from love and family.
It’s a pretty typical story I think. It’s summertime, friends of friends come together for parties and long weekend trips, a lot of alcohol is consumed, signals are sent, sleeping arrangements are subtly manipulated, and the slippery slope of sexual experience is primed. As anyone who knows anything about such situations will tell you, lines get blurry in those situations, and I woke up after one such evening a little bit satisfied after a pleasurable experience and a little bit unsettled at losing my virginity. So much of my early adolescence had built up that hypothetical moment as the end-of-the-world moral sin that would ruin my life.
Taking stock of how I felt, I realized that having sex was definitely not the catastrophe as impressed on me by Catholic middle school sex ed. I felt like the same me as before: no-one else could tell, I didn’t suddenly change in any dramatic way. (Only later would I appreciate that experience as less of a definitive moment and very much in line with a prior progression of “1st-3rd base” sexual experiences and experience with pornography). I buried the awkward guilt I felt with the liberating sense that having sex was no big deal–because it didn’t seem like it had been a big deal. “What’s all the fuss about?” I wondered, and regretted not already having enjoyed what seemed like normal, human, healthy experiences that most of my straight friends (even the Catholics…) had been enjoying for years. I found plenty of affirmation from flim, TV, the progressive internet (from Buzzfeed to gay interest sites), and even many of my close friends, all of which had come to see and celebrate that moment in a young person’s life as a happy milestone and certain “welcome to the club.”
Ironically, the sense that sex was no big deal, and therefore not worth regretting or obsessing over, allowed it to consume my imagination. For about a month, I spent every spare moment on Grindr (more about this problematic location-based hook-up app to come) and craved additional sexual experiences with more people. I blew off opportunities for authentic intimacy with people who truly loved me, and who I really loved, for the short bursts of pleasure with strangers that left me empty inside but craving more. I know that sounds cliche, and I would have rolled my eyes as well. But before long, I racked up enough evidence to realize that this lifestyle was not sustainable and was not making me happy.
There were the confused mornings torn between empowerment at making my own adult choices and “having a good time,” while desperately hoping he’d text back because “I thought he really did like me,” or obsessively pursuing another experience. There was lying to friends, feeling very awkward at Church, wondering about STDs, and finding out about social events and opportunities I’d thrown away to chat with strangers online and/or sneak out. There were the surreal conversations with more open and comfortable guys who wanted to know my last name, or what kind of relationship I wanted, or about my family. For me it was impossible to share my real self with them. I wanted physical intimacy but knew better than to put much of myself into those fleeting encounters. Something held me back from saying, “this is what I want for me, and I’m going to go all in.” The biggest something was my commitment to working within the Church, and my sense that despite my flailing about recklessly, that God loved me and wanted me to pursue a vocation to religious life. Fortunately, I was also moving, which helped me make a clean break. A good confession ultimately helped too, although it took me months to get up the courage to go. “I know that’s not what I really want–that’s not really me” I repeated as I tried to outline the whole affair.
Before the consequences of the sexual experiences became clear to me, I told myself the only issue with hooking up was an antiquated rule. That was easy to ignore when I convinced myself of the lies and rationalizations at the top of this post. What I learned was that the rule actually derives from the fact that hooking up leads to a profound disorder and unhappiness. And the profound disorder and unhappiness in my life grew until they were impossible to ignore. In short, I learned the lesson the hard way. Which is redeemable because we learn from experiences and God moves in all of our mistakes–and it is true that He always loves and forgives us.
However that is not to say this was just as well as learning the lesson the easy way. I wish I had those nights back. I don’t waste much time thinking about it anymore, but I truly regret those choices. The lies in italics at the top of this post left me in a place of personal chaos which damaged my soul and ability to love people as they deserve to be loved, and my ability to be loved. Not permanently, I don’t think, but seriously. Sins are sins because they cause chaos and disorder in God’s beautiful creation; that’s why sin is real; and we should avoid sin because it’s never worth it. I therefore sympathize with those in the Church who express serious concern that people take sin too lightly, miss seeing the rules as constructive guides to a healthy and happy life, and follow one another down every sort of twisted rabbit hole that presents itself to justify destructive actions.
As a Church we must promote that God is calling us into an ordered way of life that brings happiness and beauty–which, whether or not we like it, involves taking some thoughtful and age-old rules seriously.
NOTE: Yes, I know that opposing the morality of casual gay sex can be independent from opposing civil gay marriage. I’m just trying to illustrate the general principal that rules which society has stopped taking seriously can have great value and that there is both reason and love behind attempts to defend the edifice of sexual morality the bishops consider under attack.