He came out to me in an email. I’ve known him for years, long enough that I can’t remember when we first met, and we were recently emailing back and forth about our lives, our futures—the kind of stuff separated friends discuss. Along the way he mentioned, in an aside, that he had some lingering troubles he had to work his way through. My reply asked for an explanation—and that’s when he told me.
Over the past three years, “Chris” (let’s call him) has experienced a pronounced attraction to other males—for one old friend from high school in particular. A crush, maybe, or an infatuation. Whatever it was, he knew it wasn’t healthy. And though he had never acted on the attraction, he explained, it led to fantasies and lusts he didn’t want. So he made a resolution never to embrace them as essential to his identity or accept them as permanent or untreatable—a resolution he has kept practically alone, without the support of community, family, or friends.
Over the course of many phone calls and emails, he shared with me his reflections on what he thought had created his problem of same-sex attractions. He described an “exceedingly close, best-friendly relationship” to his mother, often serving the role of her sole confidant, and a subsequent alienation from his father. Relationships with his friends, he thought, also contributed, as he suffered through “deeply hurtful rejection” by male peers, along with “oscillations between reverence for and fear of typically masculine” classmates. Once puberty hit, this took on sexual connotations, as Chris began experiencing “eroticized desire” for traits he found in other males that he himself lacked.
All this resulted in his dividing males into those he found “superior and feared (because of their strongly masculine features),” and those he found “inferior and disdained (because of their lack thereof).” But it affected his overall personality, too. He developed, he wrote, a “passive-aggressive, detachedly defensive and otherwise manipulative behavior toward males” and a “woeful inability” to assert himself as others do. The overarching weakness, he thought, was “a deep need to fulfill the emasculating and benign-to-a-fault role of the good little boy who pleases Mom by following all rules (the civil law, school rules, conventional morality, politeness, etc.) [while] remaining unthreatening and unphysical.”
What he described seemed an accurate summary of the person I have known for years. So when he pointed to the likely causes and said he was seeking help in addressing them, I was supportive. “I would be untrue to myself if I simply accepted this condition right now,” he wrote. “I would be denying what I’ve come to believe—what I believe I know—to be the causes and potential cures of this condition in my case.” Some people say that change isn’t possible, but he thinks that with God all things are, and he at least wants to try to do his part.
Chris’s situation is sad, but it seems to be moving somewhere. He told me how he had cried daily for the first two years of his same-sex attractions, knowing that he was becoming someone he didn’t want to be. But during the third year he found a good therapist and began making progress. He set out to find “healthy male affirmation through deep, non-erotic same-sex friendships”—along with a “purification of memory regarding the hurts of the past” and a more masculine view of himself. Without any reason to exaggerate his progress, he assured me he is “100 times happier and healthier than before—though not yet whole.” Even friends and relatives who do not know about his struggles have remarked on his increased serenity and joy.
Other than his confessor and therapist, I’m the only person who knows. His parents would be devastated—his mother wondering whether she had caused it, his father fearing he had failed his son. His roommates and friends wouldn’t know how to take it. Others on campus would encourage him to embrace his true self: They’d label him a homosexual and call him gay. But he’s not—and neither does he want to be: Sexual attraction, he thinks, doesn’t define a person.
Indeed, he particularly fears coming out about his attractions while struggling against them, which would get him labeled a repressed homosexual, the gay-basher who himself is queer, the gay kid who thinks it’s just some disorder. All he wants is to live chastely and try to make progress in addressing the causes of his same-sex attractions. But at the modern American university, this is anathema. For all their celebrations of diversity and pledges of tolerance, this choice is not to be celebrated or even tolerated.
Like many schools, Chris’s university has an LGBTQA center (an official office supporting “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, and allied” students). Had he been seeking advice on how to embrace his same-sex attractions, perform sexually as a gay man, or develop a romantic homosexual relationship, he would have been welcomed. Wanting instead help to live chastely, he found nothing. Worse than nothing, he found rejection. Such centers routinely sponsor public lectures attacking Christian responses to same-sex attractions, calls to chastity, and attempts to seek therapy.
You might think Chris could find help at the university’s religious-life center. But with pink pride triangles on every interior door, that office, too, has embraced the gay-pride movement. The college hosts an annual Pride Sunday Liturgy in lieu of regular chapel worship—for pride, apparently, is the proper liturgical response to homosexuality—and sponsors public lectures with titles such as “Overcoming Christian Fear of Homosexuality.”
Fortunately, the Catholic chaplaincy on campus is vibrant and orthodox. The chaplain gave Chris solid if general spiritual advice—regular prayer, reception of the sacraments, and a life of charity—but he wasn’t sure how to tailor it to a young Christian experiencing same-sex attractions. So he suggested Chris work with a therapist to address the psychological causes of his attractions.
And Chris tried. He went to his school’s health center to see a psychologist, but she was hostile. When he asked for a referral to see a Catholic therapist, she all but called him crazy for refusing to give in to his nature as homosexual. In the end, his university health insurance wouldn’t cover all the cost of an outside therapist, and he obviously couldn’t turn to his parents.
Sexual confusion can be found anywhere, but it is particularly pronounced on college campuses, where to the general human confusion is added approved promiscuity and an institutional rejection of anything traditionally Christian or conservative. Is there any student more alienated or marginalized on campus than one who experiences same-sex attractions but who doesn’t embrace them? Silence is forced upon him, and his entire life experience is discounted: He suffers same-sex attractions, he doesn’t want to, and he seeks to be made whole again. This doesn’t seem so extreme a narrative, and yet there are very few, if any, campus groups devoted to supporting these students.
While listening to Chris, I grew angrier and angrier about our troubled culture, the sexual chaos our parents’ generation bequeathed us, the lack of support the Church provides, and the hostile environment the university maintains. Gradually, however, my anger gave way to sadness. A sadness that Chris struggles almost alone. A sadness that others like him have no one to turn to. A sadness that universities deliberately reject chaste students with same-sex attractions.
In the end, though, I found myself feeling grateful. Grateful for knowing Chris. Grateful for the chance to see him carry a cross he did not choose. Offering up his daily struggles, he strives for holiness, refuses surrender, and resists temptations. He labors to remedy the unwanted causes and side effects of attractions he never desired, aware all the while that a cure isn’t certain, that in this fallen world some disorders may always be with us.
I am witnessing my friend’s unique path to holiness: a remarkable instance of grace working through a broken earthly vessel, making all things new, and leading to fullness of life. I think how blessed I am that I’ve been fortunate enough to witness it and find inspiration for my life in his struggles. How sad, though, that the rest of the world will never know.
Ryan T. Anderson is a junior fellow at First Things.