Sunday, November 15, 2009

Spiritual Direction Canceled

I awoke this morning to find the following email from Fr. Hate:
15 November 2009          3:37 AM
Dear Ht. Tom:
     I must apologize.  I can't meet you at the Abbey for spiritual direction this morning.  It's just too frightening.
Fraternally yours,
Fr. Hate
 My response:
November 15, 2009          7:17 AM
Dear Fr. Hate,
     Thanks for your note.  It's no problem that you can't make it.
     I realize that it was a lot to invite you to meet me at a gay restaurant/bar for your first gay discernment/spiritual direction meeting.  If you'd be more comfortable meeting somewhere else, I'm happy to do so.
     It's okay to be scared to talk about this stuff.  When I first said, "I'm gay,"  back in seminary, the words felt so foreign, even dirty.  I didn't want to be one of "them."

     For years, I'd been haunted by the memory of seeing Pat Robertson pray over a boy who'd been sexually abused by an adult male.  He was praying the gay "demons" out of the boy, who'd been "infected" by his perpetrator.  I saw this on TV around the time that the pediatrician was abusing me and became frightened that he'd made me gay. 
     So, I had to be successful, get perfect grades, be the perfect son, and excel at everything I did in order to prove that I was normal and hadn't been affected/infected  by the sexual abuse.  Perfection would wash away the pediatrician's soiled, gay fingerprints from my body and his stench from my mouth.
     Until my mid-twenties, I believed that if I told anyone I was gay that they would take me to bed and hurt me.  What else was I supposed to believe? Of the first three priests in whom I confided about being sexually abused, two exploited me; the other harassed me. 
     When I moved to Baltimore for major seminary, I broke away from the abusive priests.  I knew if I was going to be a healthy priest that I had to get the secrets that these other clerics had been using to control me out in the open.  I had this counselor, Fr. Butterballi, and I knew that I had to trust him with all of it.  But to open up meant that I'd be vulnerable to him, so I resisted.
     After a few months in therapy, the dam broke.  Sobbing and shaking in fear, I confessed to Butterballi that I thought he was going to take me to bed as the other priests had.  He didn't.  And, the truly frightening thing is that I was so vulnerable in that moment, so conditioned by the cycle of sexual abuse in my life, I probably would have obeyed him had he demanded sex.  For that's what I'd been conditioned to believe love between priests and their gay subjects was all about.
     Fr. Butterballi helped me to break that cycle of trauma and abuse.  He showed me that two gay men could love one another and work together professionally and intimately in therapy, confession, etc. without sleeping together.  He offered me real love; something that none of the priests who'd abused me had ever shown me. 
     Butterballi also helped me to begin facing my own homophobia.
     Homophobia isn't only a heterosexual phenomenon.  We gays can be plenty homophobic.  Now, that's nothing to be ashamed of.  Hell, we live in a hetero universe where we were raised by our straight parents, formed by the sodomy-obsessed church, and bullied on the playground into being straight.   We learned at a young age to "pass" and that being different was bad.  No wonder we feared others who were out of the closet or more flamboyant than ourselves.  We had to fear them to survive.
     So, I know what it's like to be frightened of taking the step to talk about one's sexuality.  I know your fear, your shame, and your pain, Fr. Hate.  I understand completely that you don't feel ready to talk right now, but, please, know that when you are ready, I'm here for you.  I won't abuse your trust.
Sincerely,
Heretic Tom