Sunday, December 22, 2013

Vanity Fairness - Homosexuality and the Human Condition

Vanity Fair has published an interesting article on the Secret Life of the Vatican, an investigative report into the "gay lobby" of Rome.

Though the article contains a good deal of what the author admits to be gossip and speculation, it nonetheless seems to present an accurate portrayal of what life as a "gay priest" at the heart of the Church entails.

And as I read the piece, I couldn't help thinking how strange this human tragedy and comedy can be.

***

When I was in grade school, my friends were usually the kids everybody else made fun of.

In sixth grade, I transferred from a Montessori school in the suburbs to a public grade school in the country, far removed from the Yuppie environment I was used to.  I was shocked to see the ways of the "rednecks" of rural Missouri.  The rednecks were a lot of fun, and there is much good I could say about them, but the one troubling thing my redneck classmates were consistent about was their ruthlessness toward fags, queers, homos.  You didn't have to be "gay" to get picked on or beat up, you just had to be "sensitive".  If you liked books or music or anything other than sports, you were a f*ing faggot.  

Harold (not his real name) was, to hear everyone talk, a f*ing faggot.  Overweight and a bit effeminate, and wearing glasses, he was the butt of everyone's jokes from sixth through eighth grade.  Things got better in high school, but Harold was never popular, and never had any real friends - except me, it seemed.

Then one day after we graduated, Harold called me on the phone.  "I've got to tell you something," he said.  "You know how everyone has always been making fun of me for being queer?  Well, I am.  I have been for a long time."

Now this astonished me.  I didn't think anyone was really queer.  I couldn't imagine that guys actually did the things boys used to accuse one another of.  I just thought it was a sick way of trying to hurt somebody's feelings - accusing them of something like that.  I knew people were queer theoretically - that f*ing faggots must exist somewhere.  But here!  And Harold?!  And not only were the accusations against him true, the reality was far more shocking than any of the bullies could have imagined.

He described his job at the truck stop on the highway, where for years, from eighth grade on, he had worked first as a bus boy, then as a waiter.  He said there was a hole between stalls in the men's room at the truck stop.  Truckers would signal to Harold in some way, and he would follow them into the bathroom and service them there in the stalls.  Some guys were regulars and knew to stop there for that reason, and they'd look for Harold and signal to him.

"How frequently would you do this?" I asked.

"Over and over again throughout the day," he said.  "By the time I was 16, I had had sex with hundreds or thousands of men."

By contrast, my sexual experience at the age of 16 had included a few Playboys and an active imagination.

But it's not as if I was missing anything.

The irony of straight boys who were virgins making fun of gay Harold who was having more sex than any of the rest of us was not lost on me.  But what kind of sex?  This was in the days before AIDS, but still - anonymous encounters at the men's room of the truck stop off the interstate is not really something anyone should be proud of.

And I'm sure many of us have tales to tell that are not far removed from Harold's stories.  Gay or straight, it's rare for any person to do good things with his or her naughty bits.  Harold's sordid and sad encounters are not that much worse than the disco clubs and one-night-stands of the straight world, or the hours wasted descending deeper and deeper into more and more perverted internet porn that characterizes the gay and straight high school world of teen aged boys today.

The next time I saw Harold was a few years after his "confession".  He met with my girlfriend Karen and me to introduce us to his fiance - a petite and darling young girl who had been a couple years behind us in high school.  "Doesn't she know?" I wondered.

Well, of course she knew.  And after a long marriage and many children, Harold left her for his male lover, with whom he is now living in an A-frame in rural Missouri.  Middle aged like me, Harold's whole being continues to be devoted to this strange desire.

***

What does this have to do with the "gay lobby" of the Vatican?

It is, as I say, the human condition.

We fall far shy of what we ought to be.  It's the Catholic doctrine of Original Sin - the one doctrine that can be proved by opening your eyes and looking at people and the world around you.  The one doctrine that requires no faith, only open eyes and ears.

It is sad to see how we live.  Those of us who did not spend our teen years performing fellatio on truckers in the men's room at the diner off the interstate can easily feel superior to those who did.  But what of those of us who have given our lives to greed - who have neglected our wives and children to chase the almighty dollar?  Or those of us who think of the Church as a club we join to beat other people over the head with?  Or those of us who have fed our fears by feeding our bellies, or who have used drugs or booze to silence that awful empty place inside?

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.  (Rom. 2:1)

And yet ... do we live in a world where the best we can hope for is to tolerate one another's bad behavior, while we keep messing up and behaving badly ourselves?

No.

Because there are saints.  And there is goodness.  And there is love.

And when we see someone who is good, someone who does good things, with integrity and self-sacrifice, we know it's all true.  We know we are made for a better world.  And we know that none of us deserves to get there.


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