The Invisibles

Among the more self-aware seminarians, the ones whose gaydar, like mine, was working overtime but who seemed to have more deeply drunk the Kool-Aid, giving up sexuality was imagined to be ennobling. I have no doubt that many of these boys have stuck with it, have lived and are living now lives of celibacy. Human beings can do incredible things when they put their minds to it — waging war on nature being the one most favored by religions everywhere.

Is being a lifelong celibate, after all, any more “unnatural” than say, being a professional dancer? Young dancers regularly twist their bodies into shapes that go against the fiber of tendons and bone. It is, in fact, an expected commonplace that dancers will spend their later years virtually crippled or in need of spinal surgery.

What many young seminarians refuse to address — unlike young dancers — is that a life of defying nature has a steep price, paid in the currency of mental and physical distress. Discipline is required. A steel will helps. But the crucial ingrediant is passion — and not, as commonly assumed, an absence of feeling. When you’re brought up on the Mystical Blood, the Real Presence and the Stations of the Cross, sacrifice seems a plus. Still, how many blossoming gay boys, at age 17, have a serious idea of what it will require to maintain a sexless state throughout their sex-on-the-brain-every-7-seconds prime?

Friendships happen. Love happens. Life in a seminary, abuzz with healthy young testosterone, is a life, for all, of self-denial. A life in which sex, always a sin outside of marriage, is particularly abject and disavowed for a man married to Mother Church.

And so as I sat at that SCA meeting I got an earful from the priest who was smitten with a string of female parishioners, one of whom had the provocative habit of always turning up in intimate surroundings when she and the priest would be alone and unobserved. He told his story with great pain and authenticity, the sort of grim resolve of someone pulling himself up a sheer cliff face.

Full of shallow smiles and jokes, the gay priest set off every bullshit detector in the room.

By contrast, the second priest was all shallow smiles and off-topic jokes, pious recovery slogans and feel-good generalizations and not one word of anything personal, not one hint of why he he had been ordered by his superiors into a program for sexual compulsives. Everything was “by the grace of God” this and “keep it simple” that, bubbling, winking until every bullshit detector in the room was going off like a car alarm.

My suspicions about this happy-go-lucky priest were confirmed when he cornered me after the meeting, telling me there was something special and spiritual about me, he could see it in my eyes, and did I know (since I had shared a tale wallpapered from floor to ceiling with man-on-man sex) that there was an organization for gay Catholics called —

“Ex-Catholic,” I corrected.

“… Courage,” he finished, naming a notoriously phobic outfit. Yes, I had heard of this lame ex-Gay ministry and took great delight in snapping his head off with a ready answer.

“Right, they’ll give you God as long as you deny the emotional legitimacy of your entire life — You can not be serious!” Later as I replayed this delicious episode in my head, I added a swaggering “Well, this faggot’s not for burning.”

Very happy with myself I was. I had scored a point off the church that had stopped loving me. No, it would soon dawn on me, I had scored a point off a complete and total cripple. For it would take months and months of stray meetings and grudging hellos before I finally heard the priest’s story from his own lips.