If you’ve seen The Third Way, a video on homosexuality and Catholicism, you may recognize the name of author and speaker Melinda Selmys, who appears in the film to challenge Catholics to reach out with love and compassion to people with same-sex attraction. She has written several books drawing on her journey from active lesbianism to faithful Catholicism. One of them, entitled Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality and Catholicism, is the focus of this month’s Chapter Chat book club meeting. In this book, Selmys shares her experience of living in a lesbian relationship, how she came to know Jesus in the Catholic Church, and eventually married a man and had six children!
Melinda was good enough to answer a few of my questions relating to the book:
I imagine a book like Sexual Authenticity could draw a lot of strong opinions. How was it received by Catholics?
Generally opinions about/Sexual Authenticity/ have varied wildly depending on whether or not the people reacting to the book actually read it. As with any book, you always get a lot of reactions from folks who read the back of the book, or skimmed it, or read one supporting article. My biggest problem generally has been that I’m often perceived as an “ex gay” who believes that sexual orientation is easily changed. I’ve addressed that in a lot of detail on my blog, sexualauthenticity.blogspot.com, and also in the follow up book to /Sexual Authenticity/. Basically it means that LGBTQ Catholics sometimes perceive me as the enemy, and that more traditional Catholics often expect me to play into the Culture Wars. So, for example, when I spoke at Notre Dame in 2010 there were a group of protesters reading queer poetry on the doorstep, and when I appeared on EWTN they had me sitting next to a prominent reparative therapist. Generally I find that people on the LGBTQ side of the fence calm down a lot when they realize what I’m actually saying, and some people on the conservative side get really upset when they realize that I’m not saying what they wanted me to say. But reactions have generally been very positive.
Scenario: Suppose I’m a practicing Catholic, and have a good friend who is living in a gay relationship. One day there’s an opening in the conversation where they seem interested in my beliefs about homosexuality. What should I keep in mind as I try to explain, with both honesty and love, what I believe?
If you’re talking to a good friend, and they seem to be interested in your beliefs, and you are answering with love you’re already keeping the most important things in mind. From there I think probably the most helpful thing is to start from a footing of solidarity. Acknowledge that what the Church asks of gay people is very difficult, but point out that it’s the context of a teaching that is very challenging for everyone. It also helps to acknowledge that there are often double standards that alienate LGBTQ people from the Church — contraception and divorce tend to be winked at, whereas there’s a lot more discrimination against gay and lesbian Catholics. I think a lot of times people feel like they have to defend not only the teaching, but also the behaviour of the visible Church, but that often backfires. People are a lot more willing to listen if you’re willing to admit that sometimes your side behaves badly, or is just plain wrong. Apart from that just keep in mind the basics: you’re there to communicate the gospel, not to win an argument. You want to try to conduct the discussion as something that is reciprocal, mutual, complimentary — the same qualities that make sexuality fruitful are also necessary to make dialogue fruitful. Be honest about what you believe and why, but make sure that the “why” points towards God and not just towards an abstract and decontextualized teaching.
Are there other topics you’d be interested in writing about next?
I’ve actually written three other books, /Sexual Authenticity: More Reflections/ which basically covers a lot of the development in my thinking about homosexuality since I wrote the first one. It’s in a more experimental style and it ropes in a lot of my thought about things like postmodernism, autism, and the artistic process. /Slave of Two Masters/ is a guide to the virtue of poverty for lay people, and a reflection on Church social teaching. /Eros & Thanatos /is my most recent, and my favourite book that I’ve written. It’s a pair of philosophical dramas, straddling the line between fiction and non-fiction, philosophical dialogue and Greek tragedy. It’s mostly about homosexual love and retributive justice, but it covers a lot of other ground, from feminist politics to the nature of the afterlife.
At the moment, I’m working on a book of fantasy short stories and I’m doing a lot of writing about trans stuff. In an ideal world I would write a lot more about art and literary archetypes, but so far I haven’t figured out a way of making that pay my bills.
Chapter Chat, our book club for young Catholic women, meets this Saturday, September 27th in Kensington. If this topic interests you, please feel free to join us! See the Social section for details.
Here’s a link to “The Third Way” film: http://vimeo.com/93079367