On some days, I wish I had a good reason – a writer’s reason – for not writing as much as I used to. It sounds glamorous, isn’t it: a writer’s block, a struggle for eloquence, a fierce battle with the wild emotions? Not that I had pursued a life of letters to claim any of it anyway. But I’ve lived a good bulk of my life labouring over sentiment, attempting to capture in a word, in a verse, in a paragraph, in the sigh of the spaces between letters, the current of emotions which furiously snarled beneath my skin – emotions which ran primarily on the circumstances, the conditions, and the concerns of a man desperately yearning for masculine approval. I fashioned my life – as my works perhaps testify – according to my passions with the belief a man would be attracted to it, be sympathetic to the underlying loneliness and alienation it spoke of, be attracted by the sensuality which lingered by the end of a poem or an essay, and thus, be in love with me.
I wanted to be loved. I wanted love. And in the search for it, I wanted to take control of my life regardless of the choices it entailed – choices which were often ephemeral pleasures disguised as healthy expressions of sexuality and free will, choices made often for the sake of writing fodder, and choices that were all too conscious of and complicit to the world’s demand for “political correctness”.
And so the real reason I’ve temporarily stopped writing, or at least no longer writer as prolifically as before, is one which will perhaps surprise many of those who know me personally, or have made associations with the words here (or there and wherever I’ve written before) and the persona as he exists in the material world: conversion.
Yes, you read that right. I discovered, had undergone, and am still undergoing conversion. I have turned away from the homosexual lifestyle I’ve espoused as the core purpose and final end of my existence, and have heavily relied on for writing, expressing, moving, and acting. I decided to change and I am changing.
I must clarify with all humility, however, that I am a work in progress – a young Catholic man persevering (which includes failures and setbacks) to live a life of chastity, virtue, and faith; a man who is recognizing daily through the grace of God that he must bear his cross in order to be led to his eternal destination; a son of God, redeemed my Christ, striving for holiness in a world which decries it, makes fun of it
Why now? Or, why only now?
As a young boy, I always felt different. I wasn’t as “manly” as my other male peers were. I didn’t excel in sports or any physical activities. Young boys made fun of me for being effeminate and called me gay, even if at the time, I wasn’t sure I was. In school, I was verbally and physically harassed: threatened during lunch, punched in class, called all sorts of names come dismissal time. But the effects of the harassment, rather than make me detest the idea of being gay, instead convinced me I was one. Coupled with the lack of affection I received from my father and an over attachment towards my mother, I was leaning on becoming gay. I don’t know about the science behind it. Some say you’re born one. Other say it’s a choice. Regardless, it was easy to accept that I wasn’t going to be like most boys growing up. As I became more comfortable with the idea of homosexuality, it was slowly being ingrained in my mind that I had to, I must, get masculine approval to make up for all the rejections. I lacked it desperately. Twelve years old young and at the onset of puberty, I unconsciously told myself that happiness was to be accepted by the very same people who had rejected me. So in the process of trying to win acceptance from these people, I found myself gradually developing an attraction towards them and eventually accepting I was – gay.
Fast forward to two decades later and most people know me (and treat me) as a gay man. It’s a label attached to almost every fiber of my being. In high school and college I was, despite my introversion, loud and proud in the company of my female friends. I was queer and flamboyant and vulgar and funny. I made green jokes and played Dr. Frank-n-Furter for Theater and taunted both friends and enemies. I cross-dressed for fun, fawned over divas and pop culture sex icons for my past time, and went gaga over male models. And while I never had a boyfriend (technically-speaking), and never was in any sexual relationship, I wasn’t discreet about my infatuations and spent futile hours gushing over men who would never reciprocate my affections because most of the time, they were straight. I “fell in love” countless of times, spending late nights writing frivolous poetry in honor of men who never really knew me and who could never offer reciprocity, while indulging in self-pity because I was single and dateless and yearning for affection. It was like smoking (a vice I also picked up in college) – a habit slowly rooting itself in the deepest corners of my heart.
Despite being “out” to my friends, I kept these things hidden from my parents. I was, and perhaps in some aspects of my life up until recently, someone in the closet. You see, I grew up in a traditional Catholic family which automatically meant they would never accept my homosexuality. In spite of the seeming harshness of the situation, I actually accepted it. I knew why. I read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I read the arguments from Catholic apologists and natural law experts. I understood the sources of the Church’s ethical and moral convictions. I actually appreciated how They Saw Things As They Are. I liked being Catholic too. I was always, strangely enough, protective of my faith and would staunchly defend it, even and especially to my liberated peers and gay friends. I agreed with the Church’s stand over key moral issues especially those concerning abortion, euthanasia, and gay marriage. I even attended some formation and catechism classes (how this plays a part in my conversion, I will share in a few) with the hopes I could please my parents, find some answers, and change. Even early on, there was already something amiss with me being gay but couldn’t figure it out. I was both the closet gay man and the closet Catholic leading a double life that was slowly pulling me apart. I was attracted to men and associated myself with a homosexual lifestyle, but I was still a practicing Catholic who, perhaps due to ignorance, pride, and immaturity, lacked a unity of life and struggled reconciling his faith and his sexuality.
And struggle I did. I was, for a long time, addicted to pornography and masturbation. I suffered from many sexual disorders which plagued me until much recently. I found a disordered pleasure in being sexually objectified and thought if they liked my body, they would love me. After college, employed, enjoying a taste of independence, and with money to burn, I soon found myself engaging in online sex-chats, frequenting spas for their sensual pleasures, and constantly entertaining the idea of hiring men for sex (which, I must clarify, I never did).
I continued indulging my sentiments, constantly mistaking any man’s kindness and attention as a sign of romantic interest only to slip into an abyss of sadness and self-pity once I got a reality check. This meant I struggled forming meaningful relationships with other men because first, I feared they would be disgusted I was gay, and two, I feared the idea of liking them. So I tried dating apps and networks and found myself getting hooked to conversations which became sexual. I found myself in a pseudo-relationship with a man I never met (a Muslim from Malaysia) and was convinced, until it ended, that it was true love. After the phantom heartaches of that phase in my life, I began to lose the shell of introversion and went out with people, not exactly for sex, but primarily to liberate myself from conservative ideals or Church-based perspectives. Social media became the medium of expression for the “Me” which I wanted to be. I whined and complained and pretended I was politically involved and artistic or cool and liberated. I blogged about my sexual explorations, and wrote keenly about my sexuality. Outside of writing, I wanted to adhere to the values of the world. I wanted the things that seemed to give happiness: riches, material rewards, travel, friendships.
In a nutshell, I was a man who was all over the place, a man lost, a man who didn’t exactly know what to do with his life whether it was regarding his profession, his personal life, and his faith. I was a man who was almost soulless.
So how did I go from all over the place to conversion?
Well, it wasn’t as immediate as let’s say, St. Paul’s. The change was gradual: the soul simmering under God’s plan and providence, waiting for the perfect time, the right time. I realized that everything that happened in my life prior to my conversion was meant to set me to this path. Like I said, even when I was a young boy grappling with the ambiguity of my identity, a corner in my heart was still anchored in Jesus Christ. It was a small part, negligible perhaps, and unnoticed until my conversion, but it was there waiting to be stirred.
Five years in the working world, I began to find myself increasingly disillusioned by the lifestyle I chose, disappointed and unhappy about where I was in my life, feeling rather empty – spiritually, financially, emotionally. I felt like I wasn’t going anywhere. I was still struggling with chastity. I was in a wretched spiritual state. I was unrefined and vulgar and impatient. I was wallowing in self-pity all the time. I was dating random people. My friendships were unsatisfying. People who surrounded me were so full of negativity too: complaining about politics and the church, advocating increasingly pointless LGBT advocacies, decrying bigotry by the Catholic faithful and all the while being just as bigoted. And yet, I didn’t have any strength to persevere in a life opposing it. My prayers were lip-service. My faith, a mere label. I was simply on the edge of even more uncertainty.
But then a I found myself in the company of people exposed to the Christian faith. Their way of living began to rub on me and I found myself becoming inclined to their ways. They carried themselves in such a way that you knew they were living a life based on faith. At the start, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about emulating them, or rediscovering my faith. I had treated the Sacraments so poorly, at times blasphemously, that I thought holiness was no business of mine. Me, praying? Me, becoming a saint? But I still tried albeit with a half-heart. I got a spiritual director. I started praying more, no matter how dry it felt or at a time, pointless. I began going to confession more frequently and attending mass. I got myself reading spiritual books too.
While these changes weren’t the spark to the conversion per se, they made me more receptive to the grace of God without me knowing it or sensing it and served as precursors to my “moment” with God.
The start of the big “epiphany” happened three months ago, when I found myself struggling with my SSA again. I had just begun taking seriously my spiritual life and so I knew it wasn’t going anywhere with this new “infatuation”. I didn’t want to go back to a cycle of unrequited affections. I wanted to be free from it. I was also in the middle of really committing and responding to the call for conversion. So I started looking for a solution to my same-sex attraction. I was praying for healing, and for the grace to overcome the situation. That was when I stumbled upon this blog entry: Lessons Learned from a Catholic with Same Sex Attraction. It was late in the evening, and I was struggling with my prayers, when I read the blog. As I read through the testimony of Liam, that small corner of my heart that had been quiet but steadily lit, was suddenly fanned. I clearly saw myself in Liam.
“When we came back from the retreat, I came out to Chris. And what he did in response amazed me: he prayed for me. He didn’t “pray the gay away” or ask God that in the future I would like women and get married. He prayed for me because he knew I was hurting and because he knew I needed a change in my life. He didn’t pray because I was gay and committing sins, but simply because I was committing sins. He was the first friend that I had come across that removed the gay label and didn’t support me simply because I was gay and confused but because I was human and confused. I don’t think he will really ever understand the impact that he is having on my life, even as he reads this over before he posts it to his blog.”
Like Chris, I don’t think Liam will ever understand the impact of his words to my life. After reading the blog, I wept. Actually, I sobbed. Uncontrollably. There were no words to describe that moment when I realized I had been doing it wrong all along. Everything I’ve done ever since I told myself I was gay had been a a result of closing myself to the grace of God, a consequence of depending on my own strength to conquer my demons, and a result of letting my pride get in the way of forgiveness. Not only was I carrying resentments towards those who bullied me as a child and made me who I turned out to be, all those who rejected me and hated me, I was also unable to forgive myself for all the sins I had committed. I kept thinking, God couldn’t possibly forgive myself. But after reading Liam’s story and seeing the parallels, I saw that the way of thinking I possessed was nothing but a trick of the Devil which was blinding my soul with conceit.
There is a reason why I never got into those activities for Catholic boys when I was younger. I wasn’t ready yet. My heart was not disposed to the Will of God. I wasn’t ready to cut off my disorders and fight my defects, to let go of my attachments, to empty myself so that God, through Jesus Christ, could fill me. I wasn’t ready to let go of my comforts and consolations and bear the Cross. But God moves in ways beyond how we understand it, in methods that the ordinary person of the world cannot fully comprehend. I had to go through hell on earth, be far removed from God, and left in an utter state of disgrace, to be built up again and to recognize that there is so much more destined for me. Whenever I find myself asking if I can truly become holy, if I can truly become a saint; whenever I am tempted to believe holiness is none of my business – I look back at my past and surrender it to God. I know what it feels to be in the dark. I know how it is to be so low in the ground. God allowed me to make those mistakes so I could truly savor the joy he brings now that I recognize my sins, admit them, and accept I need Him. You never know how good something is until you lose it. You can never describe the joy of finding once more what you had lost.
The good that flows from the homosexual inclination is not an exceptional “otherness,” as Elizabeth Scalia seems to suggest. No, the good is the redemptive healing work of God that begins when we honestly acknowledge that homosexuality is a wound. If we do so, we can become “Wounded Healers,” in the way that Henri Nouwen viewed his own wounds, which we now know included same-sex attraction. Nouwen should be our model: humbly accepting the Church’s teachings, in all things, and abandoning the rest to Divine Providence….The gay community will become family when those of us in the Church who live with the inclination accept it for what it truly is: a deep wound within our persons which we joyfully choose to unite with the Suffering Christ, on behalf of those we love so dearly in the gay community. By his wounds we are healed, and by the acceptance and transformation of our wounds, through the love of Christ, the Holy Spirit will draw them home to their Heavenly Father.
– Daniel Mattson
Liam’s blog entry basically sums up my new life now: a daily struggle for conversion, a struggle to abandon myself to Love Christ and turn that love into service for others. Where once I thought that my only problem was my sexuality, this new lease on life has made me see my other defects: pride, selfishness, stubbornness, vanity, imprudence. I realize more how so much of myself has to be purged, how many deep-seated tendencies and vicious inclinations need to be uprooted from my system, far beyond and sometimes even deeper than homosexuality.
When I speak of conversion, I am not just talking about a one-time event. It’s an on-going process, perhaps one that will last a lifetime. So much of what I was used to doing is now being taken away. I have been limiting and/or cutting friendships which are habitual occasions of sin. I deleted much of my social media presence. I’m trying to be more refined in my ways, to be more disciplined in my use of time. I am fighting feelings that the old self would have immediately indulged (which isn’t always a success, you don’t just stop being gay). And I am trying to Most of all (this entails a lot of faith, self-abandonment, and confidence in God) to contemplate Christ, the Face of Mercy, the Ocean of Love. More than sheer will-power, conversion is about letting go of that control and letting God do what only He can through prayer and the Sacraments.
As Fulton Sheen teaches, “The damaged ego falsely identifies its fulfillment with the sensate, and seeks its perfection in what it has, rather than in what the person is or can become. To check the ego’s errors, there must be a reversal of attitudes that will reestablish a balance between inner spiritual development and external activity. The ego must be tamed; the old self must be purged; the true I must be released.” So much of who I was before is being taken down, so a new me, the true I, can be revealed in the glory as a Soul of Nothing turned into the promise of Christ: the divine life! God who Is Everything.
St. Paul told the Ephesians: “If true knowledge is to be found in Jesus, you will have learned in His school that you must be quit, now, of the old self whose way of life you remember, the self that wasted its aim on false dreams. There must be a renewal in the inner life of your minds; you must be clothed in the new self, which is created in Cod’s image, justified and sanctified through the truth.” (Eph. 4:22-24.)
I will not waste my time trying to explain or defend my conversion to people who do not believe in it, who at the onset, are skeptical when it comes to religion. The great apologists (many of whom are converts) have done well defending the call for conversion, doing the same in every issue affecting and impacting human life (religious freedom, life issues, same-sex marriage, atheism, and relativism). I think the problem is many who are part of the LGBT view the lens from a victim’s point of view (something I did), and put primary importance on feelings and sentiments, often preferring ideas and systems of belief which are convenient to the lifestyle. Having been there, I see how terribly frail this way of living is. But the Catholic Church in no way will yield to conveniences, half-truths and outright lies. And it will not sweat over people who question or persecute it. Jean Daujat writes, “(The Church) is always the Life and Truth of Jesus Christ, which the world rejects as folly, but which is the salvation and sanctity of those who love and believe in God. She is constantly exposed to that opposition and persecution which Jesus has foretold. We give no other answer to those who demand that the Church please the world by a worldly success than those two branches of crossed wood where the Son of God is nailed by hatred of the world for the salvation of God’s elect.”
So what’t the purpose of writing this? As Liam wrote, “I want people to read this because I want them to know an alternative to what society tells them that they have to do…“
Let me leave you with Liam’s own parting words. May I add that conversion is only possible if you freely and completely give yourself to God. Open yourself up to Christ. Pray intently. Pray deeply. Pray, without expecting consolations or sensible satisfactions. Pray without ceasing. Ask for the grace to change.
“You are beautiful and you deserve so much better than a life of aimless promiscuity and heartbreak. If you are gay, God made you that way because you have a specific role to fulfill in the Divine Plan—a role that God Himself trusts you with. He trusts you. It is when I realized this that I was able to overcome my past and become chaste (as we are ALL called to be—gay or straight, for the reasons explained above). It was at that moment that I realized that I could turn the shame of what I did into knowledge so others could learn from my mistakes. It was at that moment that I realized that informing people, especially my fellow young gay people, was the path I was to take next. It was at that moment that I realized that being gay is not my entire identity, but just a fraction of the person God made me to me. It was at that moment that I realized that being gay is not only a cross, but a blessing.”