Friday, June 12, 2009

Sexual Authenticity

Melinda Selmys (you may have caught her 3-part series at NCR, Part II here, and Part III here) opens her newest book, Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality and Catholicism, with an apology. It is an apology in two senses. First, she explains her goals: to help Christians understand homosexuals, to explain Catholic thought on sexuality without alienating homosexuals, and to understand the whole issue herself. Second, she wants to ask forgiveness for not perfectly attaining these goals.

But she comes pretty darn close.

She divides her work into five parts, exploring homosexuality through the world (media, politics, and history), theory (psychology, statistics, and theology), the human person (body, family, and children), God (the theological virtues), and identity (gender, vocation, and beauty). This is not a "proof" for the evils of homosexuality nor is it a rant against the failures of Christians to manifest Christ's own charity. It is a series of meditations and essays that attempts to unveil--with greater and lesser degrees of success--the inner workings of the human heart, its desires, attractions, and final end.

I have to say, I loved this book. Loved it. I have never seen anything quite so penetrating and brutally honest. Selmys pins everyone to the wall--she is ruthlessly fair in her estimation of various "gay movements" throughout history as well as Christian struggles with sexuality and the body. Anyone who loves to cite Keats, Shakespeare, Plato, Augustine, Tolkien, or any true poet as an expert on human nature will love her style. If you peddled in goth mysticism at any point in your life, you will love it.

But you will have to remember that Selmys is telling the story from the inside as much as from the outside. Once a self-convicted, passsionately atheist lesbian, today she is Catholic, the mother of five, and happily married. She did not bulldoze through these lifechanges through therapy, group prayer, or suppressing her sexuality: She was inspired by beauty. And so she writes for us all--heterosexual and homosexual--in the language of beauty, not science.

Her discussion of what homosexuality is was extraordinary, and must be read in full: "What is homosexuality? What causes it? I don't know. Frankly, I don't think anyone else does, either. I do know this: that what we speak of as homosexuality is profoundly individual. It is a point where many factors meet: self-determination, identity, psychology, genetics. Any one of these things might be sufficient, in an individual heart, to add up to homosexuality; and any one of them might be radically insiffucient in the heart of another." Any change in orientation, therefore, must be a reorienting of the heart--that is, of the will. Selmys vehemently resists media tendencies to treat homosexual behavior as compulsive--although she leaves room for that possibility in any given individual. Freedom and sexuality are a big part of the meditation.

Which, of course, means that she spends some serious time with the theology of the body as articulated by John Paul II. Her chapter on the body is truly one of the strongest (from a Philosopher Mom's point of view, of course!). She explains the idea of the body as gift, love as the entirely free self-gift to another, and sex as the physical manifestation of that gift.

Another shining chapter is her essay on children and the suffering they endure as a result of our sexual escapades: "Surrogate motherhood, sperm donation, and the deliberate decision to become pregnant with the intention of raising the child yourself all involve purposely creating a child who will never know at least one of its natural parents. This is not, and cannot be, in the best interests of the child--only in the best interests of the parent. But parenthood cannot proceed from these principles... Of course, a child conceived for the stupidest and pettiest of reasons can grow to be truly loved; human beings are capable of repentance, of growing beyond themselves. But it is sheer lunacy for a society to sanction and condone the practice of putting parental desires ahead of the needs of children in the vague hope that everything will be okay in the end."

She ends with an incredibly moving meditation on heaven (always the quickest way to my heart) as communion in beauty. Artists will swoon just a bit. Only a true conviction of eternity with the Author, the Artist Who Is, can be sufficient to move the human heart beyond itself to purity, charity, and a life of grace.

p.s. Oh, and she has a great sense of humor: "I am not a prophet thundering from my mountain; I'm Balaam's ass, saying, 'Uh, Master, I think maybe we ought not to go down that road. What's that? Oh, you don't see the angel with the flaming sword. Well, it plans to cut your head off. I thought you should know.'"

This review was written as part of the
Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Sexual Authenticity.


Melanie B said...

Wow. That sounds really interesting. not a subject I'm likely to pick up a book on at first glance, but what you say about her inside perspective from both sides, the meditative quality and the focus on beauty really grabs me. I'm going to add this one to my wish list.

e2 said...

Nice! As you should... I think you'd really like it. :)

Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

Thanks so much for this review! I've been a big fan of Selmys for a while and have been eagerly awaiting this book. I can't wait to read it!