True friendship is vital in helping young people who are struggling with same-sex attraction but trying to live a chaste lifestyle, said a prominent gay Catholic blogger. “We love when we make ourselves vulnerable,” said blogger Joseph Prever who writes under the pseudonym Steve Gershom for a blog with the tagline, “Catholic, gay, and feeling fine.”
Prever was speaking at an international conference on pastoral care for those experiencing same-sex attraction, organized by the Catholic ministry Courage. In his talk titled “The Curse of the Ouroboros: Notes On Friendship,” he explained how close, chaste friendships can help young people experiencing same-sex attractions escape a self-destructive cycle that can result from an excessive inward-focus.
Many of these young people struggle with intimacy because they feel their attractions make them radically different from other people, he said. This creates a self-absorbed condition Prever called the “Ouroboros,” the classical Greek image of a snake devouring its tail. Prever told CNA he identified with the image as a teenager because he felt his attractions made him different from most other people, and thus became excessively focused on himself.
“A lot of people struggle with being sort of inward-turned, sort of self-enclosed, sort of unable to engage people in actual person-to-person relationships, because you’re so concerned with maintaining your own self-image, maintaining your image in other people’s minds,” he said in an interview after his talk. “So for me, the struggle has always been learning to sort of unknot that knot, and a large part of the way that has happened in my life has been via friendships, both in learning to let other people see into my interior and to sort of help me when I was not quite willing to be helped,” he said. “And also learning to reach out and help other people who are in even worse, or just different, spots.”
The Courage conference, “Welcoming and Accompanying Our Brothers and Sisters with Same-Sex Attraction,” was held from August 10-12 in Detroit, Michigan. Almost 400 people attended from six countries, 125 of whom were clergy and four bishops. The rest were primarily lay persons who hold ministry positions at parishes, and family members of persons with same-sex attraction.
It was the organization’s first conference devoted to Church leaders in pastoral ministry on the issue. Speakers included persons who have experienced same-sex attraction but who have been guided to live chastity by friendships and the Church, as well as experts in areas of psychology, natural law, and chastity.
The conference, directors noted, was developed from the questions posed ahead of the 2015 Ordinary Synod on the Family in the lineamenta, or part of the preparatory document for the synod featuring questions sent to bishops’ conferences and Eastern Catholic synods all over the world for consideration.
“The pastoral care of persons with homosexual tendencies poses new challenges today, due to the manner in which their rights are proposed in society,” the lineamenta states. “How can the Christian community give pastoral attention to families with persons with homosexual tendencies? What are the responses that, in light of cultural sensitivities, are considered to be most appropriate?”
Prever blogs as a self-described “gay Catholic” who is “celibate” and trying to faithfully follow the teachings of the Catholic Church. A big obstacle to friendship for contemporary men, he said, is that society looks down on male friendship as “secretly gay.” “I think that to an extent, our cultural image of masculinity is of somebody who’s very self-enclosed and self-sufficient. But that kind of self-sufficiency really can’t coexist with radical intimacy,” he stated.
Yet being an active friend to others — for their own good and not to “use” them for his own fulfillment, he cautioned -- helped him escape his own “Ouroboros” of self-absorption. The “watershed moment” was when he reached out to an old friend who had fallen on hard times but whom he could not successfully help.
“Is this guy worth my time?” Prever remembered asking, considering what he was getting out of the friendship. His spiritual director provided the answer: don’t seek to get something out of the relationship, but simply “be a friend to him.” In seeking healing from previous intimate friendships, Prever had not yet considered that he had something to offer others. It was an eye-opening moment, he recalled, and one where he realized he could provide healing in addition to his need to be healed.
Prever also had advice for young people struggling with same-sex attractions but who want to live chastely. Ideally, they should have a spiritual director during their adult lives, he said, noting that he had a spiritual director from the time he was 19 onward who was always available to talk about anything at all.
However, he acknowledged, having such a figure who is both available and competent to handle such cases is non-existent for many people. At minimum, people should seek to talk about their struggles with someone they trust, he insisted. “I spent three or four years carrying it around on my own, and I think a lot of damage was done in that time. I think that’s the case with a lot of people,” he said.
And in advance of the 2015 Ordinary Synod on the Family in October, he hopes that chaste, faithful Catholics with same-sex attractions will be able to speak to the bishops of the world. “One thing I hope that will be the case is that they will hear a lot from people who have walked that particular walk, and less theorizing from an abstract point of view, which is really good and necessary, but also totally insufficient,” he said.