14 October 2010

The grandeur of celibacy

Note: These thoughts were sparked while reading an early post from a blog which sounds like me ten years ago (almost eerily so...I mean, if I were more articulate and more "SSA"-aware) but which I won't link to because its extremely quickly-booming popularity seems to reflect a desperate lust for somewhat simplistic, church-institution-affirming voices, which I think makes it unintentionally destructive. I imagine the author is a beautifully kind, intelligent, and LDS-faithful person who only wants to help, and I don't mean for my reaction to the blog to be at all personal. If anything, I imagine we might get along really well, differences in beliefs aside.


I've done the ol' tricks to dominate my thoughts, not entertain certain attractions, etc. Frankly, I think almost every guy in existence has employed various techniques to keep the ol' captain below under control if he believes in sexual restraint. Every developing guy has a lot of thought control to deal with. I don't know what it's like to be a girl, and I know girls have sex drives, too, but I'll just speak from my experience as a guy. Teenage guys are horny bastages beyond, I think, most women's ability to comprehend. Granted, I thought of myself as pretty much asexual until well into my twenties because I didn't understand how guys could become bumbling idiots over a pretty face and a nice rack. I didn't pay attention to how much energy I exerted not to look when I'd see a hot shirtless guy. Even for a repressed guy like me, just the brush of an arm could set off a hormone red alarm. So already, I think most of them have shown remarkable restraint and conviction of purpose if they've kept themselves "sexually pure".


I think it's maybe even a little extra-difficult for young gay guys. Those who are hiding their homosexuality can't even get caught glancing too long or looking up and down briefly, so even that has to be kept in check. But even for "out" guys who are "saving themselves", they have challenges most straight guys in our culture don't. Think about it: if you took a young, straight, LDS guy who has never engaged in sexual expression (AKA pent up), and his group of friends includes attractive girls (let's just say most of them are lesbians, but he keeps hoping maybe one or two might be attracted to guys) he can't even check out or date, let alone do anything with, and have him becoming friends with them one-on-one, rough-housing, sleeping over at each other's houses, watching movies on couches together, etc, how much of his time is he going to spend "controlling himself"? Think of a scripture and memorize it, repeat it, repeat it again. What if one of them seems to send really subtle signals that she might like guys, and she's sexually assertive? Sing a hymn, sing a hymn! Then, for the closeted ones, take away the lockerroom talk: he can't even talk about how hot this or that girl is or express any interest other than as friends to anyone. He has to keep it all to himself. Speaking of lockerrooms, tell a straight guy he has to use the women's locker rooms and shower in there. Wear a rubber band to snap your wrist every time you have an impure thought in the lockerroom!

Granted, I don't think you can directly compare them. There's something patently different about your buddies, even your gay buddies, that makes it hard to really compare it to a straight guy with any girls, let alone straight ones, and lockerrooms are not mere fleshfest smorgasbords to most well-adjusted gay guys I know. But it at least illustrates that to be celibate and gay perhaps adds some layers straight guys don't experience. Of course, I think this, as much as any masculinity issues, often compels gay guys to have lots of female friends (hellooooo, fewer temptations and confusing feelings!), but that's a post for another time.


Basically, I'm saying this is no small effort to keep one's sexual behaviors in check, let alone one's thoughts. And that's respectable because it reflects a desire to master one's self and hold to one's beliefs about something despite one's drives to defy those beliefs. Whether or not the underlying belief is correct, there's something significant about learning self mastery. If you can bridle or direct the most powerful of human drives, such as hunger or sexual drive, you become confident that you are no slave, and there is an empowering sense of choice.

Of course, just because you can learn great self mastery and dedicate yourself to God by not eating, that doesn't mean eating healthily is wrong, but you get the point, right? Strictures can "make something sacred", or remind you of the value either it intrinsically has or which you choose to place on it, or at least teach you something about yourself.

Other guys who don't have the same restrictive (even if in the ever-popular, positive-spin "kite string" sense so often discussed in LDS Sunday school lessons) regulations on sexuality but have been engaging in sexual behaviors like the rest of Creation, except generally more safely and less savagely than most creatures humankind tends to consider as "beneath" us, probably cannot know what it takes to dominate one's urges and haven't gained self mastery of that kind. They may have learned the confidence of self mastery in other ways, like controlling anger, eating healthily, or serving others when they didn't feel like it, but sex hasn't been one of those all-important methods of learning it.


Even independent of religious beliefs, I think there are reasons to limit sexual expression to committed, monogamous relationships, such as the complications of physiological/emotional bonding (whether a chemical/hormonal or 'spiritual' thing), health risks, pregnancy risk, development of trust and deeper emotional/intellectual intimacy, and--I'll be honest--focusing first on foreplay which will enhance sex if/when you get to it. I'm not sure I need more reasons than those to save sex for "special" relationships, or saving the most intimate sexual expressions for lifetime commitment.


There have been times when I've held back because it felt like it would cheapen a relationship if we did too much too fast. I know that may seem like I'm just holding on to my mormon sensibilities, and maybe I am, but I think there's something to it. Maybe it goes back to the idea of refraining in order to make it more special because I want it to be, not because it inherently is or should be. Which leads me to the whole reason I started writing all of this: it's somewhat fascinating to me how much "meaning" and "purpose" some ascribe to their efforts to quell their sexual appetite or desires for romantic connection. I definitely know where they're coming from. I've been there, too.

In more sexually puritanical society, where even the awakening of sexual feelings is prohibited until marriage between a man and a woman (generally, their marriages don't have to be eternal or church-performed, just civil, which is a relatively new institution, but hey, we've gotta draw lines somewhere, so it's understandable), the strictures might be even greater.


In such a society, on top of the dynamics of just "keeping it in your pants until marriage", those who have never experienced with someone of the opposite sex an attraction they would feel right to build a marriage on are faced with a starker probability of lifelong singleness than the average hetero person. The average single, LDS straight guy or girl probably generally at least looks forward to eventually being able to find a companion in this life someday, even if the prospects look grim or they feel unlovable (a terrible feeling for sure). But a single, LDS gay/SSA person typically believes he/she must either marry someone of the opposite sex or remain celibate (in this case meaning "without romantic companionship" in addition to "without sex") until the next life, on top of the possible worries about prospects or feeling unlovable. He/she may have a vague notion that he/she could theoretically be attracted to someone of the opposite sex someday and get married, but it's a vague notion in which they have to exercise a lot of faith and which they often think is a long-shot, so they typically, at some point, confront the possibility of a life without romantic companionship of any allowable kind.

How else could you face something so difficult with happiness, other than to have a strongly motivational purpose and meaning behind it? LDS doctrine states that sex is beautiful and encouraged by God within the right bounds, that it's directly and inseparably connected to one of our main purposes for being here: bringing more spirit children to the earth to experience their mortal probation and gain a body. More progressive LDS also believe it's a God-given experience between husband and wife as part of a wholeness of intimacy to keep them bonded and dedicated to each other and together to raise their family, which is presumably why birth control isn't against official church policy, which only states it's a decision to be made between spouses and God. But with that perspective, that we are here to partner up, multiply and replenish the earth, procreate and raise children unto the Lord, etc, those who are single and unsure of whether they'll ever find someone, for whatever reason, can either focus on the fact that they may never be a part of the great plan of happiness in that central, pivotal way, or they can focus on finding meaning in the path they're on and frame "what they're missing out on" instead as "what they're dedicating to God".

I've known a lot of people, including those who view sexual intimacy as something to be restricted to being between husband and wife, who have decried the Catholic notion of celibacy as false doctrine, but as I understand it, nuns and priests consider celibacy to be a pinnacle of dedication of one's life to God and godly pursuits, a calling for which not all will or can be chosen but which is nonetheless a sanctifying dedication. I tend to see a lot of gay mormons sharing that kind of perspective, a sort of offering which makes their single status more meaningful, more dedicated, more rewarding. And why not? You've got to cope somehow, and that seems a pretty effective way.


In the past, when I've told people I'm gay but actively LDS and not dating men (back when I believed the doctrines and was not dating men), some have told me they didn't know how we mohos do it--here, some of them realize how a mind like mine might interpret their statement and clarify that they mean "deal with this challenge" by facing a life of probable singleness with such faith--I've felt like saying, "Yeah...but I mean...what choice do I have, here, really? I can either wallow in self-pity and pine away for what I might never have, focusing on the negative, and let that lead me to almost certain misery or apostasy, or I can have faith that it's all going to work out in the end because it's the Lord's plan, whether that means I find a wife or will be sustained by the Spirit in dedicating my single life to God and blessed in eternity with more joy than I possibly could have found in this life with a male partner!" Instead of saying that, I typically quietly nodded and smiled and said something like, "It's hard sometimes, sure, but everyone has their challenges." Cue the looks of sympathy and deep respect that I'm keeping my chin up with an eternal perspective.


What's my point? Not sure. You think it's tedious reading this stuff? Try writing it. Oh, grandeur. About that, I guess I am saying that hearing some people talk about their faith in the eternal blessings for choosing to be single for life if they can't find a potential eternal companion reminds me that it seems like the grandeur we place on acts we do or refrain from doing often directly correlates to the perceived misery of doing or refraining. Alternatively, the need to explain it kind of dissolves if there's no grand "plan" or formula creating the strictures to begin with, so you're free to choose whatever seems best, and it becomes a task of figuring out what you want. But whether or not difficult acts are inherently "good" or "right", having an overarching, great and meaningful purpose for them, whatever that purpose is (I know many people with varying grand or practical visions of the universe or life in general), really does help get people make the best of otherwise tough situations, and often not in a trudging or slowly plodding way but even with vigorous purpose and energy. Even these people will have some "down" times until they're able to rediscover that purpose or find another and pick themselves up for another foray into purposefulness.

So seek truth, seek true principles, live by those principles for your own self respect and confidence. But through it all, when you're committed to doing something hard, and it begins to feel hopeless, find your meaning, find your purpose. I'm talking to myself there, FYI. Sorry, I should probably finish this conversation with myself offline. Could get awkward for all of you when I start exchanging expressions of affection using pet names with myself.


Yeah...I've been inside too long. Gym time, then TV night with friends it is. Goodbye, lovelies.


BLB said...

The entangled web of sex and intimacy is a tough topic for me since between a rock an a hard place it leaves me (Get your minds outta the guttuh, folks,). On one hand, I could do the celibacy until "true love" hits, but often times, whether it is owing to my personality or other circumstances, any relationship/friendship in which I had a possibility of romance quickly turns from ἔρως (Eros) to στοργή (Storge). In other words, I almost always develop a sibling-like bond with those I get close to. I lost 2 friendships in 2008 due to my lack of awareness of this fact.

On the other hand, I ain't a whore, so I won't sleep with just some random Bill or Jill.

What to do. What to do...

Original Mohomie said...

Huh, that's interesting. Sounds like possibly a defensive thing to keep the relationship "safe", but I really have no idea. I'm afraid I don't have much input on that one. I'm interested to hear what you discover about it. :-)

The Impossible K said...

I can't help but comment on the mention of "asexuality", which I still do believe is a valid (though very rare) orientation, just like homosexuality. Yes, I'm aware my own relationship with this label is complicated. Really, how many people spend a night of their honeymoon discussing asexuality anyway, if there weren't *something* to it? (Or perhaps, possibly, to my own psyche)... I can definitely concede that in many cases, when one self-identifies as "asexual", it is probably just the repression talking... but still. I won't retract how I felt in the past, since my all too logical mind couldn't even conceive of attraction to either sex for most my life... At least you can look back and honestly admit there was a bit of repression goin' on...
but enough of my rambling... hehe, and random sidenote, I just love the nickname "Little Captain" - especially considering what my husband's nickname is... :)