It’s just a fact of life that we Catholics have to get used to. Secular society—not Catholics—owns the word “gay.” And, just as was said in the film The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Let’s just do a quick reality check to see if the cultural use of the word “gay” can possibly correspond to the reality that the Catholic Church recognizes regarding same-sex attraction. Let’s look at the GLAAD Media Reference Guide’s explanation of the word “gay”:
The adjective used to describe people whose enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attractions are to people of the same sex (e.g., gay man, gay people). Sometimes lesbian (n. or adj.) is the preferred term for women. Avoid identifying gay people as “homosexuals” an outdated term considered derogatory and offensive to many lesbian and gay people.
Interestingly, while numerous online dictionary sources merely define “gay” to mean “homosexual,” it is clear from the GLAAD advocacy group that the term “gay” is the only term we’re supposed to use, because even “homosexual” is seen as derogatory and offensive.
‘Gay’ Is Always and Everywhere Good. Period.
In other words, “gay” is a euphemism. Intrinsic to its meaning is the fact that “gay” is completely untethered from any consideration that, perhaps, there is something about the “homosexual” condition that is somehow not right or okay. The word “gay” intrinsically parts company with Church teaching on the homosexual inclination, which is “objectively disordered” (see Catechism 2358).
But doesn’t “gay” mean everyone’s doing fine, right? Aren’t the times a-changin’? Even Catholics can be “gay,” right?
That wasn’t the late Courage apostolate founder Fr. John Harvey’s conclusion.
Yes. I avoid using the terms “gay” and “lesbian” for good reason. An individual is more than a sexual inclination….To refer to him or her as a “homosexual” is to reduce that person to a sexual tendency….The terms “gay” and “lesbian” are an even further reduction of a person’s own wondrous complexity….
[Fr. John Harvey, “Homosexuality and the Catholic Church: Clear Answers to Difficult Questions,” Ascension Press, 2007, p. 28]
So, on one hand we have the reductive nature of the term, and on the other hand we have its intrinsic existence as a euphemism designed to liberate homosexuality from any hint of being not in keeping with human flourishing.
What About ‘Orientation’?
The same GLAAD media guide has this to say about another useless term in authentically Catholic anthropology—“orientation”:
The scientifically accurate term for an individual’s enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to members of the same and/or opposite sex, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual (straight) orientations. Avoid the offensive term “sexual preference,” which is used to suggest that being gay, lesbian or bisexual is voluntary and therefore “curable.” People need not have had specific sexual experiences to know their own sexual orientation; in fact, they need not have had any sexual experience at all.
Like the term “gay,” the term “orientation” is designed to eliminate an undesired reference to the “mutability” of the experience of same-sex attraction. “Orientation” is an agenda-charged word chosen by culture so that everyone knows that this is not “preference”—these things simply cannot be changed!
Well, unless you’re transgender—then your orientation is something you can pick, depending on how you “transition.” Or, unless you come out as “gay” first but then decide you’re bisexual. Basically, whatever you decide your orientation is is just fine, as long as you don’t try to change it to “heterosexual.” That should be illegal.
Or, how about this—did you know that some folks are even willing to categorize asexuality—the condition of not experiencing any sexual attraction—as an “orientation”? To whom is an “asexual” person “oriented”? No one. But in order not to discriminate against asexual persons under the law, it must be an orientation!
Dear Catholics—Step Back From the Ledge!
Despite all this, our calling as Catholics remains clear—we are to be countercultural. And it’s crucial that we separate our language and our thinking from this confused morass of nonsense being expressed by our culture’s obsession with everything sexual. For Catholics, it can be simple—we don’t need to buy into this language.
We can speak clearly of the attractions we have rather than letting them define who we are.
Who we are in the eyes of God is very, very simple. We are men. We are women. We may have disordered sexual inclinations or attractions, but they are not us. And they are not holy or good.
Nor are such inclinations accurately described by the euphemisms that culture applies to them. Stop playing along, my fellow Catholics—choose your words carefully, so they’re truly grounded in the reality, dignity, and value of the human person.
Stop trying to turn “gay” into such a word—it’s already spoken for. And we Catholics will never be able to change that.