On April 11, 2022, Catholic World Report published an article entitled “The queer perspective and flawed anthropology of Eve Tushnet”, written by someone with the pseudonym of David Laidlaw. I was very disappointed that they would publish such an article, for it was probably the worst article I have ever read on CWR. I admire Eve Tushnet tremendously and I think her two books, Gay and Catholic and Tenderness are very important today, especially for Catholics who have same-sex attraction and want to be faithful to Catholic teaching. I wrote the following initially as a response to a friend of mine who was impressed with his article and sent it to me to read, and I posted this at the urging of another friend who shares my disappointment with Laidlaw’s article. What follows are my responses to the various points he makes in his article. DL of course refers to David Laidlaw, while DD refers to myself as Deacon Doug.
DL: In Tushnet’s eyes, the Church has not been a loving Mother to those she calls “gay Christians,” but rather a “mistress who holds us in contempt and punishes us mercilessly, arbitrarily, and forbids us even to speak what we’ve experienced at her hands.” She wrote her book, she says, with the goal of “alleviating suffering caused by injustice or silence and showing” to her readers “the beauty of the life Christ offers”; she wants to help them to “rejoice that [God] knows [them] as [they] truly are.”
DD: And who can doubt it? The Church has not led the way, but has allowed the culture to lead the way out of the “closet of shame”, and only then has the Church qualified the thinking that has come out of that lead. Cardinal Ratzinger’s wise pastoral counsel with respect to the care of persons with a homosexual orientation did not come out of a vacuum, but out of a need to address pastoral issues in this area. The reason is that people, Catholics included, have a difficult time distinguishing between reverence for persons with same sex orientation and an attitude of permissiveness with respect to homosexual actions. They either condemn the person along with the action, or they accept the person along with the action. The latter describes the culture, the former describes the approach that many Catholics/Christians have adopted in the past.
DL: As a repentant man who lived for a time under the deception that I was a “gay child of God,” I find Tushnet’s views mystifying and her harsh words about the Church unfounded.
DD: I don’t.
DL: No doubt there have been some in the Church, who have, in the name of the Church, engaged in what the Catechism would call “unjust discrimination” towards people confused about their sexual identity.
DD: My only question at this point is “What then are you arguing about?” She’s right.
DL: Yet as an institution, both in her teachings and in her ministry towards men and women who identify as LGBTQ, the Church is not the cruel mistress Tushnet depicts.
DD: Firstly, this, I believe, is a dubious distinction. The institution is made up of members. What’s the institution without the members? If the members are blind, uncaring, and harsh, then the institution is blind, uncaring, and harsh. As for the Church’s teachings and her ministry towards men and women who identify as LGBTQ, Eve embraces that teaching, lives it, and is herself an example of that ministry towards men and women who identify as LGBTQ.
DL: Tushnet claims each example she gives of suffering represent “thousands and thousands” of people, who she says have had their “lives distorted by shame and despair” and “false conceptions of God” at the hands of the Church.
DD: That’s not a lot of people, considering the world’s population. So to me it does not sound like she’s exaggerating.
DL: And yet Tushnet gives no objective evidence to justify her claims; her examples are all anecdotal.
DD: Does David Laidlaw have anything other than anecdotals? Did he expect a rigorous, double blinded peer reviewed statistical analysis? It is unlikely that her experiences as a gay Catholic as well as with those with whom she is in contact, given the fact that she is gay and Catholic, are unrepresentative. When we read about spiritual direction from people like Jean Pierre de Caussade or Dom Hubert Van Zeller or St. John of the Cross, all of their examples are purely anecdotal.
DL: Many of her stories are sensationalist. For example, Tushnet speaks of children who were beat up by their father after coming out. I don’t doubt that this happened to someone Tushnet knows, but arguing that this has happened to “thousands and thousands” is irresponsible and an exercise in catastrophism.
DD: I don’t recall her ever saying that thousands and thousands were beaten up by their fathers after coming out, nor am I able to find such a notion after a thorough search of her book. She does mention that there are “thousands upon thousands” like the young woman she spoke with from Texas who, after Massachusetts legalized gay marriage, informed her that “every single day–literally—her classmates said that gay people were going to hell.” Eve writes: “She was able, in spite of the counter witness by the Christians all around her, to see the pattern in the Bible of God’s protection and love of oppressed people. She began to see the Bible as a text of liberation, one meant for her even though she wasn’t straight. I don’t know how she was able to see through the lies of Christian homophobia. Was it strength of will or mental toughness? Was it the grace of God? Whatever it was, she kept going to church, she survived to adulthood, she came out of the closet, and that’s how I met her. But there were thousands upon thousands like her whom I will never meet because they dropped out of church–or out of life.” She does indeed speak of thousands upon thousands of lives distorted by shame and despair, by false conceptions of God, and finally, “thousands upon thousands of churches where the best that gay people can hope for it total silence about our futures”.
DL: I have been involved for decades in ministries for people who left the gay lifestyle, and I have never met anyone who was beat up by their father for coming out—though I’ve met men who were beat up by their fathers for other things; being beat up by deadbeat fathers is certainly not limited to children who come out. Nor can this be blamed on the Church.
DD: No one is suggesting that beating is limited to those who come out, but the fact that David Laidlaw has never met anyone who was so threatened for coming out does not mean that no one was actually threatened or beaten by their fathers for coming out. And she certainly does not assert that thousands were threatened by their fathers or actually beaten up for being gay. What we read is an item in the first chapter entitled “The Gay Christian Drinking Game”, which she describes as “an exercise in gallows humor” consisting of a series of stories or things that happened to gay Christians she knows, people who accepted their church’s sexual ethic and sought to be obedient to it. Take a drink if “your dad threatened to beat you up for being gay. Or really did it.” It seems to me that David Laidlaw is a reader with an agenda.
DL: Sadly, included in Tushnet’s list of sufferings visited upon “gay Christians” are many things which helped people like me leave the gay lifestyle behind. For example, Tushnet considers it a form of suffering when priests in the confessional say, “You’re not gay. You’re a beloved child of God.”
DD: Which is certainly well-meaning, but rather silly: “No, Father, I’m gay and a beloved child of God”.
DL: In Tushnet’s eyes, this message is “that those two are opposite things.” For those who have fully converted to Catholicism and accepted all of the demands of chastity,
DD: As Eve Tushnet has done, which is why David Laidlaw should not be writing this article that unjustly trashes a book that is doing a tremendous amount of good. “Do not check your own players into the boards nor slash them with your stick nor trip them up on the ice” is pretty good advice, probably too basic for the average hockey player. The few who are too dense to understand these suggestions and who continue to slash their own teammates should be benched until they come to their senses.
DL: …which include both sexual abstinence outside of marriage as well as accepting what the Church teaches us about our sexual identity, those in the Church who told us our identity was as a beloved son or daughter of God helped us to follow the words of St. Paul who urges all of us to be transformed through the renewal of our minds by putting off the old man, which for us necessarily includes rejecting the world’s understanding of sexual identities.
DD: I don’t quite know what he means here. If someone is gay, they’re gay. Indeed, they are “priest, prophet and king” by virtue of their baptism, but they are still gay; baptism does not change that. I am heterosexual male; that is an identity. That does not exhaust who I am, but “who I am” also includes the fact that I am a Catholic Deacon–that’s an identity–, and I am Canadian, which is also an identity.
DL: Additionally, Tushnet unfortunately holds scornful views of the ministries and books which helped us to find healing for the wounds which led to our homosexual desires, such as the books of Leanne Payne.
DD: She does no such thing. If the books of Leanne Payne helped David Laidlaw, then that’s wonderful, but she does not directly address the books or methods of Leanne Payne.
DL: The majority of the suffering described in the pages of Tushnet’s book could only be considered a form of suffering if the Church’s anthropology was somehow flawed.
DD: This sounds philosophically profound, but I suspect it is mere pretension; for I have yet to see how Laidlaw’s article points to anything that has to do with “anthropology”, let alone a flawed one.
DL: Page after page of the “suffering” outlined by Tushnet is the result of her not believing or accepting what the Church teaches her and other “gay Christians” regarding their sexual identity.
DD: Perhaps I have missed something, but Eve Tushnet does believe and accept Church teaching regarding sexual ethics and our identity in Christ. So I have no idea what Laidlaw is talking about here.
DL: Thus it is self-inflicted.
DD: I can get up and preach a sermon on homosexuality, pontificate on the Church’s teaching about how marriage is only between a man and a woman, that any sex outside of that is mortally sinful, and that sodomy is a perversion that merits damnation, and refer to homosexuals as sodomites (as one Canadian Catholic editor I know often did–which is why a lawsuit was launched against his magazine, a lawsuit that appeared to a number of us as justified), and in doing so I can hurt a lot of Catholics who have a homosexual orientation and who are trying to find their way in the Church. Can I just dismiss that suffering as “self-inflicted”?
DL: The story of the Rich Young Ruler is helpful here. Though he went away sad upon hearing the Lord tell him that he needed to sell all he had and give the money to the poor, the sorrow he felt as a result was not the fault of Christ. So too with most of the complaints Tushnet levels against the Church.
DD: I’ll remember to use this comparison any time my words cause offence–I’ll be able to say anything in whatever way I want to say it.
DL: As a loving Mother, the Church says people such as Eve and I should be treated with “sensitivity, compassion, and respect.” Where legitimate forms of “unjust discrimination” or suffering have taken place at the hands of people in the Church, the Church must repent, and in Tushnet’s long list of grievances, there are, to be fair to her book, some examples of this sort of suffering.
DD: Just some, however! Not many. One or two perhaps?
DL: Most, however are examples of what the late Alice von Hildebrand would call “illegitimate suffering”, which she defines as “sufferings which are consequences of our false and sinful attitudes. God does not give his grace for such self-inflicted sufferings–this is why they are unbearable.”
DD: My question is: “How would David Laidlaw know that, unless he knows each of the persons who have suffered?” How does he know their situation? How does he know that the source of the suffering is not the pastoral incompetence of a priest, an Evangelical minister, or the cruelty and ignorance of one’s religious classmates?
DL: No wonder Tushnet and other “gay Catholics” see the Church as a cruel mistress. By choosing to embrace the false sexual identities of the world, they shut themselves off from the grace of God in that area of their life.
DD: It is astounding to me that Laidlaw could suggest that Eve Tushnet has shut herself off from the grace of God. I am beginning to believe that he did not actually read her book in its entirety.
DL: Thus, they feel unbearably aggrieved when the Church doesn’t agree with them.
DD: But no, Eve Tushnet agrees with the Church and she even urged me to emphasize “trusting the Church” in a talk I prepared for Niagara University students. She did not think I needed to spend so much time with philosophical arguments about sexual ethics, because most people find them difficult to follow, so her point was to exhort the students to “trust the Church”.
DL: This seems to explain the disdain Tushnet has for the bishops’ teachings regarding homosexuality.
DD: But she does not disdain the teaching on homosexuality. That is why I like her so much–she is gay, but lives according to that teaching. The only thing she seems to disdain in the Church are pastorally incompetent clergy who have as much tact and common sense as your average door nob.
DL: In her first book, she wrote of being “furious with bishops who say dumb things about gay people,” describing how their statements on homosexuality “asymptotically approach…understanding at the speed of a dying snail.”
DD: One of the best lines in the book.
DL: In her new book, she says part of her goal is to “revive gay people’s trust in God—a trust our shepherds have too often damaged or even killed, but which our tender and good Shepherd can restore to life.”
DD: A case in point re: understanding that moves as slow as a dying snail: that God “cannot bless sin” (March, 2021). Although this is true, it was probably not the most pastorally prudent thing to say at this time, for gay Catholics who are faithful to Church teaching on sexuality and marriage know that God cannot and does not bless sin. However, a little more effort is all it would have taken to think of a more creative and more thoughtful response that might appeal to those who have same sex attraction and are looking to the Church for something they can’t quite put their finger on, something along the lines of celibate covenant friendship perhaps.
DL: Unfortunately, “gay Christians” like Tushnet have always seemed like lost sheep to me, who, once found, tell the shepherd who finds them that they really aren’t lost, since they think they know better than the shepherd where and how they will flourish.
DD: This is horribly unjust. It is just wrong.
DL: Tushnet’s disdainful view of the bishops is not surprising,
DD: She doesn’t have a disdainful view of bishops, anymore than Catholic traditionalists have a disdainful view of popes–given their past criticisms and doubts about some of the things Pope Francis has said.
DL: …when you consider this stunning statement in Tenderness:
I enjoy being gay. I love the communities my experience has given me; I love spending time with other gay people, especially other gay Christians. I love the insights this marginal, outsider experience offers—the queer perspective on contemporary American and Christian life. I love noticing and attending to the beauty of women. The world is full of beautiful ladies! What a joy. What a gift to notice it.
DD: Why, I have to wonder, is that stunning? I too love noticing and attending to the beauty of women. That is not necessarily lust. The world is full of beautiful women, and it is a gift to notice and appreciate them. She is a lesbian woman who practices sexual renunciation, so when she says she loves being gay, she does not mean that she loves engaging in same sex sexual acts, nor fantasizing about them. Rather, she loves who she is. If Christ can, why can’t she?
DL: This is dumbfounding to me and to every other man or woman I know who has repented from their past life lived as gay men and women.
DD: What I find particularly dumbfounding is Laidlaw’s tendency to confuse “looking at a person lustfully” with “noticing and appreciating the beauty of a woman”. We repent of actions; a person does not repent of an orientation that they did not choose. Snails pace once again, it seems.
DL: We are under no illusions that “being gay” is in anyway good, as the 1986 Letter on the Pastoral Care of the Homosexual Person makes clear when it speaks against those who give homosexuality “an overly benign interpretation,” or who view the homosexual condition as “neutral, or even good.” Tushnet told her readers in her first book that the 1986 Letter sadly isn’t “a jewel in the Church’s crown,” and said of the words quoted above that they are “especially unilluminating.” This is no surprise, coming from someone who claims to enjoy being gay so much.
DD: The text that Laidlaw refers to is the following:
“In the discussion which followed the publication of the Declaration, however, an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral, or even good. Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.
Therefore special concern and pastoral attention should be directed toward those who have this condition, lest they be led to believe that the living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is a morally acceptable option. It is not.”
Although the use of the word “disorder” is unfortunate–for most people associate “disorder” with “personality disorder” and other terms from abnormal psychology–, the very fact that Eve Tushnet exhorts people to chastity clearly shows that she does not believe that the homosexual orientation is an orientation to a moral good. But she enjoys being who she is, which includes being a baptized member of Christ, as well as being gay, which permits a greater empathy for gay Catholics and a greater ability to offer them good counsel. She does not surrender to the temptation to enter into gay sexual activity, but she does enjoy being who she is and the opportunities and avenues that her orientation has opened up for her.
DL: For those of us who have repented of our “love of being gay,”
DD: David Laidlaw, it seems to me, is sneaky and devious. He did not repent of his love of being gay, unless “love of being gay” included love of same sex sexual acts and the gay lifestyle. For Eve Tushnet, “love of being gay” does not include love of same sex sexual acts. He should know that if he read her book.
DL: …we believe that the reason those words of liberating truth are unilluminating to Tushnet is because she appears blinded by her affection and attachment to the land of Sodom.
DD: It is nothing less than astounding to me that he would say such a thing. The arrogance of his rhetoric is jaw dropping. I don’t believe he would have said such a thing without a pseudonym to hide behind.
DL: She is stuck, like Lot’s wife, looking back with fondness at that sterile and unfruitful land, not realizing that it is nothing but the valley of the shadow of death.
DD: Further evidence of foolishness disguised as orthodoxy.
DL: And yet from this stuck place, Tushnet, both in this book and in her first book (as well as at her blog and in other writings), sees herself as having a more global vision than the Church for what “gay people” really need from the Church.
She sees her experience as pioneering, exceptional, and unique, frequently saying of herself that when she entered the Church, “I didn’t know any other gay people who were willing to accept the Church’s sexual ethic. I didn’t even know of anybody like that.” (This is hard to take seriously, since the Courage Apostolate would have been on her radar with a quick Google search.) From that point on, her life seems to have been consumed with trying to fit her love of being gay within the Church—and believing that her time outside the Church as a lesbian helps her point the way forward for the Church.
From this position as a self-appointed expert on what she calls on her blog, “Gay Catholic What Not,” she frequently makes magisterial statements, such as in this book, when she states, “it’s typically easier for a gay person who grows up outside the Church to know God’s love than for a gay person who had a Catholic upbringing,” and contends that “[t]he children of the Church, who should be the most confident in God’s love, the ones who know best what God is like, are instead the ones who grow up uncertain of God’s love and afraid that there’s no place for them in the Church.”
DD: Unfortunately, what she says here is true and continues to be so.
DL: One wonders on what basis she makes these rather broad claims,
DD: Experience. Listening to gay people who are Catholic as well as those who are not Catholic.
DL: …but I think it stems from her choosing to still remain “on the margins” of her chosen queer life, instead of fully entering into the beauty of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and chastity. If she doesn’t see the Church as honoring the ways she wants to live out her “lesbianism,”
DD: The Church does not have any teaching on how one should live out one’s lesbianism. It’s not that rich in detail. For the most part, it outlines what not to do, but it is rather silent on what gay Catholics can do, other than what every other Catholic is doing. That’s why people like Eve Tushnet are so important.
DL: …then she’ll naturally see the Church as a hindrance to anyone else who grows up in the Church with homosexual desires. This, I think explains the following question she poses, which I found sad and absurd:
What if gay people were safer in our churches than in the secular world? What if we could find more ways to give and receive love within the Church than we do outside it? If this seems impossible, it only shows how far we have strayed from the path the Lord has called us to walk.
DD: Who can disagree with that?
DL: Tushnet, alas, due to her own professed love of “being gay” is blind to the truth that those she calls “gay people” are already safer in the Church than they are in the secular world.
DD: On one level, they are safer, but many of them might not necessarily “feel” that. They have to “feel safe”, and Church documents tend not to have the capacity to generate feelings of safety. That comes from people. And if they don’t “feel safe”, they won’t believe that they are safe, and they’ll leave.
DL: Those of us who have shed the false identity of being LGBTQ have found what she seems to be so desperately looking for: there are indeed more ways to give and receive love within the Church than exist outside of it.
The problem for Tushnet is that she wants to express her love as some holy form of “lesbian” love within the Church, whereas converts, such as myself, have learned that anything that is “LGBTQ love” is always a perverted and distorted form of love.
DD: What’s LGBTQ love? Eve Tushnet talks about Christ’s love, not LGBTQ love. She knows she’s gay, that hasn’t changed, she understands that she is attracted to women, not men, and she chooses not to act upon that, but she allows that orientation to permit her to see the beauty of woman among other things, just as I, a married heterosexual male, allow my orientation to permit me to see the beauty of women, while renouncing any inclination to actually have sex with them.
DL: That Tushnet isn’t able to see what we’ve found just shows how far she has strayed from the path the Lord has called her to walk. She needs to leave the halfway house she’s constructed of the Church on the outskirts of Sodom and Gomorrah, slough off the old man, and rejoice that God knows her as she truly is: a woman, whose sexual identity is created for motherhood, not lesbianism.
DD: I believe she knows her biological identity as a woman, capable of conceiving a child, thus capable of being a mother. But is Laidlaw suggesting that conversion to Christ automatically brings with it a conversion of one’s orientation?
DL: If Eve Tushnet doesn’t see God’s tenderness in that noble calling, then she cannot, I believe, possibly be relied upon to reveal God’s tenderness to anyone else.
DD: She has never said anything against the noble calling of motherhood. Of course she sees it. She counsels young pregnant women at a crisis pregnancy centre not to abort their babies, but to keep them and embrace the noble call of motherhood.
It is just not the case that if an article is conservative and Catholic, then it must be a good article and worthy of publication. Unfortunately, some editors believe so, which is why many bad but conservative articles are published by otherwise half decent journals. Moreover, I can’t help thinking that to write an article of this nature behind a pseudonym is cowardly.