Thursday, July 30, 2015

"Gay and Catholic" by Eve Tushnet: A Review

“I was born in 1978, came out of the closet at age thirteen or so, and was received into the Catholic Church during my sophomore year of college.”[1] In this matter-of-fact manner begins Eve Tushnet’s 2014 book Gay and Catholic. The first part of the book is a memoir detailing her discovery of her lesbian orientation as a generally happy teen growing up in a loving and supportive family. Her conversion to Catholicism while studying at Yale is a short but powerful chapter. Tushnet describes the main theme of her book, addressed especially to gay Christians, as follows:

This is a book about what God might want you to do with your love and your life if you are attracted to and fall in love with members of your own sex—not about what you shouldn’t do and why you shouldn’t do it. […] God wants you to love. He wants you to increase the tenderness and beauty in his world. This book is about the different ways in which that call to love can play out for people who are gay or experience same-sex attraction and accept the historical Christian tradition on chastity.[2]

In describing ways to live out love, Tushnet draws on her own experience and that of others, reflecting such paths as spiritual friendship, vowed commitments, service and intentional communities. The book’s final section offers a critical, though not exhaustive, summary of resources available to gay Christians and those who seek to accompany them. Tushnet offers short evaluations of several books, blogs and faith-based initiatives. She also addresses several frequently asked questions concerning Christianity and homosexuality, as well as suggesting some practical ways of helping gay people feel more welcome in the Church.

Tushnet consciously devotes little space towards attempting to theoretically explain either homosexuality or Church doctrine; rather, she accepts both as the reality or her life and takes them as the starting point in her exploration of vocations. Her acceptance of Church teaching may turn off many potential readers who do not agree with this step. However, even some critics who disagree with many of Tushnet’s ideas have found the book worthwhile; for example, Professor Robert P. George of Princeton University writes that “few have thought as deeply or as creatively as has she about same-sex attraction and its existential significance for persons who experience it. Readers across the spectrum will be informed and challenged by her reflections.”[3] On the other end of said spectrum, “conservative” Catholic readers will alternately feel right at home with Tushnet’s quotations of G.K. Chesterton and be forced (as I was) to do some soul-searching regarding their motives for wanting to reach out to gay people. Tushnet’s Catholicism is by no means uncritical and she humorously warns her straight readers of many common pitfalls, such as the temptation to try and speak for gay people: “you are not the Lorax, and we are not the trees!”[4]

Personally, Tushnet’s book was helpful to me in deepening my understanding of friendship and love. As a single woman struggling to love certain men in accordance with their own and God’s will, several of her reflections on love provided me with a source of healing, though my situation is different from that of a gay or lesbian Christian. I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in the relationship between Catholicism and homosexuality. It is gently and humorously faithful, as well as honest and full of beautiful reflections drawn from real experience. Above all, Tushnet takes seriously the need for gay and lesbian people to love and be loved, as well as the beauty and goodness that can come from love between persons of the same sex.


Bibliographical information: Tushnet, Eve. Gay and Catholic: Accepting my Sexuality, Finding Community, Living my Faith. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2014.

[1] Tushnet, page 1.
[2] Tushnet 2.
[3] Tushnet ii-iii.
[4] Tushnet 207.

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