Monday, February 18, 2013

Chastity: PART FOUR (Friends)

The virtue of chastity more often has to do with the things we do before we are sexually tempted. One practices chastity when he prepares for highly sexual situations, and one practices chastity when he avoids imprudent sexual temptation. He violates chastity when he purposely ignores the things he should prepare for (not making sure there's a separate hotel room for his secretary), or when he actively seeks things that arouse his passions (pornography). Most people understand this pretty well. We always tell married men to avoid close relationships with females, and everyone knows (or at least says) that "guys and girls can't just be friends." I think there's a lot to this saying, even if it's a little cliche. It is very difficult to not fall in love with (or at least lust after) the people around us given a certain amount of time. There's other implications to this saying, like that men are only driven by sex, which I think are ridiculous, so I won't spend much time with them. But I do want to focus on what this principle means for homosexuals, especially ones interested in being chaste.

More specifically, I'm not interested in exploring why and how homosexuals should avoid homosexual sexual relationships. I think anyone who thinks chastity is important doesn't need to be told that he should avoid having homosexual sex. I'm interested instead in friendships. That is, relationships between gay men and other men (whether straight or gay) that are non-sexual. What I'm arguing here (and hopefully providing some advice for) is that homosexuals are placed in a very unique and difficult position with respect to traditional friendships. This is an area of the homosexual condition that is all-too-often ignored. People like to focus on the sex: either have a lot of it, or don't have any. But attention isn't really put on how gay men do or how they should live their non-sexual lives. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself. To make my point, I want to look at what chastity means for a heterosexual man:

If he's single and not called to celibacy, he should socialize with upstanding women, so that he can court one properly and eventually marry her. He must not put himself in situations where he will be tempted to immorality, and he should always try to control the situation so that it doesn't lead to something inappropriate (avoid being alone with nothing to do but one another!) or exceptionally frustrating (don't start the act every night so that you have to pull yourself away at the last second!). Perhaps even more important is how he emotionally connects with the woman. He should not be overly emotional with her so that he might fall madly in love with her to later realize that she is not the woman he should be with. In other words, he must guard his heart until he can determine that the woman he is interested in is worth marriage. If he is already married, he should keep relationships with other women at arm's length. He should be friendly with woman, but he must not spend extended periods of time with them (especially alone with them), and he should always avoid sharing too many personal details of his life with other women. If he is not careful, he will almost certainly begin to develop feelings for her, and then he will be faced with serious temptations and troubles.

There's a lot to how to be a chaste heterosexual, but that's a basic rundown. What I want to point out, though, is that none of the above guidelines have anything to do with male friends. A heterosexual is not concerned with chastity when it comes to his buddies. It would be weird if he were. He doesn't avoid swimming with his old friends for fear that he might be overly aroused by them. They're his friends, the people he can have deep emotional connections with without worrying about sex. And male-male friendships are incredibly important for the human male. They help him, to put it bluntly, flourish. It is a sad man who has no friends! He has no one to learn with, to express himself with, to argue with, without fear of sexual tension. Entire novels can and should be written on the importance of the type of love that exists between friends. It's special and unique and very meaningful. And it's not better or worse in that it's non-sexual (I used to think it was better); it's just a different thing entirely. It's a necessary part of how humans grow and succeed. 

So how about the homosexual? What does chastity look like for him? Simply put, there is no easy answer to this question. Frankly, and I've thought about this a lot, depending on the circumstance, I flat out don't have a good answer. The problem should be obvious if it's not. If the homosexual hopes to have normal, healthy friendships (which are good for him, in the same way packs are good for wolves or hives are good for bees), he has to place himself in serious temptations. As I've noted, if a man spends any extended period of time with someone he finds attractive, he will almost certainly develop feelings for that person. But friends should spend a lot of time together, learning and growing from one another. So a homosexual, in order to flourish, must put himself in situations where he knows he will violate at least some part of chastity. At the very least he is being imprudent by getting that close to the fire. For some examples of this problem, I can tell you my friendship experiences. I have "fallen in love" with a significant number of my male friends on many occasions  Sometimes it's just a passing infatuation. Other times it's full-blow emotional reliance. (Some of these feelings still linger after multiple years.) It's almost a cliche, the gay guy falling in love with his best friend. But it happens to all of us. And it makes sense. Imagine it another way: a heterosexual man spending days upon days with a girl he finds attractive, showering in the locker room with her, sharing personal secrets with her, telling her his hopes and dreams. If he didn't fall in love with her, there'd be something at least a little wrong with him. I can tell you that this has led to a number of significant problems in my life. And it's not that I make moves on my friends. I don't, and I never have, ever. It's just, as a homosexual, I never know when I've become too close to a male friend, or if I should back away, or if I'm just overreacting, or if I should just shut down the friendship altogether. 

(An alternative is to just avoid close friendships with men. And for heterosexuals, I think this is exactly the advice we'd give them: stop hanging out with girls all the time unless you want to constantly hurt and tempt yourself. Any heterosexual who spent all his free time with a woman whom he has no chance of marrying would be, at the very least, acting incredibly imprudently. The other alternative for the homosexual is to develop deep relationships with women. While I think this can be an alright alternative  it really doesn't solve the problem, and in many cases it creates more. For one, a male-male friendship is a unique, special thing in a man's life, especially before he is married. (I don't mean to imply that a female-female friendship isn't important; it's just foreign to me). A homosexual cannot and should not turn a woman into a man. Secondly, developing close relationships with women comes with its own dangers. It's just as much a cliche, the woman falling in love with her gay best friend. (Women have fallen for me, and I feel horrible about it.) Further, it has a tendency to cause scandal. A homosexual who might want to not broadcast his sexuality (me, for example) would be put in a situation where people get the wrong idea. A man should not be hanging out in the dressing room with a woman (or especially living with one), for example, even if he's not sexually attracted to her. Put simply, I don't think this is a really viable solution to the problem.)

Whenever I start new friendships, I am always putting myself in danger of becoming madly infatuated (and perhaps even falling in love with) the friend. Put bluntly, this hurts. I have hurt myself often with my friendships. I have a tendency to turn them into things that they are not. I take any rejection very personally. I worry about what I say. I fear that the friend will leave me, will stop sharing special things with me. Simply, I treat the friend like I would a lover. I have learned (and hopefully this is the advice part) over the years, though, to control this. I have realized that the feelings tend to fade, no matter how strong they once were. I have come to discover that a friend serves a very important part in a person's life, and that to pervert that thing (as to pervert anything) is to ruin it. So while I may be madly in love with a friend for a period of time, I can still guard my heart. I can stop taking things personally. I can say that a slight is just a slight, not a sign of anything more. In other words, even if I emotionally am pulled in one direction, I can intellectually realize what a friendship actually is and realign myself. If I allow myself to pervert friendship, I destroy myself and the friend. I cannot tell you the number of times I've made a friend feel unnecessarily guilty about something he shouldn't have even been worrying about in the first place. 

I think that sexual emotions, like anything, have a final cause. For human beings they serve the function of allowing us to come together to create families so that we can flourish as living things. If we didn't have them, we'd have trouble both committing to one another and staying together once we already have committed. But our emotions are not ends in themselves. A person should not seek romantic love as its own end; it is always pointed in a much higher direction. And it is important to remember that our emotions, like our moral intuition, are not necessarily right. They often are, and they are very helpful for discerning what we should do with our lives, but they often get in the way of what is good for us. A man may absolutely feel more love for his secretary than he does for his wife, but this has no bearing whatsoever on whether he should cheat on his wife. Similarly, a homosexual may feel more love for his best friend than another man does for his wife, but this has no bearing whatsoever on whether the homosexual should pursue a sexual relationship with his best friend. 

Is this cerebral method always helpful? No. I still am not comfortable hanging out with friends when they're shirtless. I still am very hesitant to start friendships with people. I constantly doubt my motivations: "why do you only want to be friends with guys you find attractive?" I constantly have to compare myself to what a straight guy would do: "would my straight friends care about what just happened?" A lot of the time, I just don't feel like I know what male friends get upset about. It's like having a weird social handicap. And people, if they're perceptive, notice. I'm likable, and people trust me, but people tend to be a little hesitant of my inability to really know how to commit as a friend. And I don't think gay people who are living the gay lifestyle have really resolved this problem yet either. Men are supposed to be friends with one another. How they can be friends with such enormous sexual desire (especially when they indulge in that desire) is not an easy thing to figure out. I know people don't like "defect" language when it comes to sexuality, but I think even the most adamant defender of homosexual sexual relationships has to recognize that there is a problem here, and that sex does not make it any better.

But I don't mean to be too negative. It's not an impossibility. It's just something that takes a lot of work. And in many cases, I'm afraid to say, I'm not sure there is a right way to do it. But this unique problem is important to recognize. I hear people all the time say that homosexuals should not have homosexual relationships but instead should develop strong friendships with other men. I think people sometimes say this because they want to give something to the homosexual. Like, "you're not giving up that much; you can still be friends with that guy!" But this separates sexuality out in a weird way, and it ignores what it is to be a man. Men (and women too really), no matter what they're oriented toward, have a strong desire to fulfill their sexual desires as a means of expressing their underlying emotions. And when they intentionally surround themselves with people whom they want to do this with (when there is no moral way for that expression), they do something very risky. But as I said, it's not impossible. I have lots of friends. And I've had feelings for a number of them. But those feelings come and go. And like anyone else, as I grow older, I am better able to understand and control them.

8 comments:

  1. Does it make things easier to be friends with men who are unattractive or with men who are strictly unavailable (married men, priests, etc.)?

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    1. If they are unattractive, it definitely helps. But I've discovered this strange thing, where we can become attracted to pretty much anyone (assuming they aren't like grotesque and awful) over enough time. You find something about them that is really great eventually, and you kind of "get it."

      As for unavailable, not at all. In fact, just the other day at church, I found myself checking out the newly ordained priests in a bulletin. To be fair, a lot of those guys were pretty young, but no, I can just as easily develop feelings for people who are off the market, as it were. I mean, after all, most (if not all) of my friends are heterosexual (as far as I know), so they are pretty much off the market as much as a married man or a priest is.

      Furthermore, I'm young. I like to associate with people my age, talk about things that interest me. I don't like to let my sexuality stop That too. There is nothing good about a kid who locks himself up or only hangs out with people who could in no way interest him. In certain ways, this is actually worse for him.

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  2. Very interesting write-up.

    One thing I'm curious of. How do you think this manifests for the non-chaste homosexual? Is there something too 'different' about gay men such that hanging around mostly with other gay men (the sex/temptation issue aside) isn't healthy, in your view?

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    1. It sounds a Little like you're asking if gay men are so different as to not be like men in the sense of being the type of thing necessary for a healthy male-male relationship. If this isn't what you meant, I apologize, but I think it's an interesting point. I think about this a lot actually: what the characteristics of a gay man really are (outside of just being sexually attracted to members of the same sex), and I plan to do a pretty big post on the issue.

      Specifically, though, I think the way gay men interact with the world is different than straight men, at least in certain ways. And I think, if the brain development theory is correct, this makes sense. It's hard to speak so universally, but I think, at least with some consistency, that gay men approach certain parts of life More like women. Now, they are nothing like women in other ways (and they should never be seen as women), but it's an interesting, and I think important, question all the same.

      These issues are, of course, impossible to really discuss. No one can ever decide what makes a man a man or a woman a woman (often to the point of absurdity), but short answer: I do think there is something that is unhealthy about gay men only hanging out with one another, the sex completely aside. I can't speak with any authority, though, as I am hardly an active member in the gay community. I do have gay friends (at least one whom I was close with), and there is a lot about their lives (especially with respect to masculinity or the male virtues) that I think is unhealthy, but my sample size isn't large enough.

      But I'm not totally sure what you mean by your question. Do elaborate if you don't mind!

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    2. If this isn't what you meant, I apologize, but I think it's an interesting point.

      No, that's pretty much exactly what I was asking, and you gave the insight I was asking for. So hey, thank you.

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  3. This is on a somewhat unrelated topic, but it relates to what you talked about a few posts back, about the importance of intellectual formation for moral behavior. It examines whether or not college really secularizes its students.

    http://religion.ssrc.org/reforum/Regnerus_Uecker.pdf

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  4. As a straight female who imagined herself in your shoes reading your post, I feel incredibly grateful for my heterosexual orientation and the female friendships it's allowed me to maintain. Thank you for being an inspiration, in all the tests God has given you.

    Life is fleeting, all things pass.

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    1. Thank you for such kind words; they mean a lot.

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