Orientation Change You Can Believe In

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I’m sure that many of us took great solace in the recent words of the Obama Administration’s Valerie Jarrett, reassuring us all of their concern for our young people with same-sex attraction and gender-identity issues: “As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.”

The bottom line is this: If you want professional assistance in addressing either same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria, you also had better want the only politically-correct “change” approved by the Obama Administration—namely: 1) if you are an adolescent (or younger) boy who thinks he is a girl, or a girl who thinks she is a boy, “professionals” will help you make that “transition,” but 2) if you are a boy or girl experiencing same-sex attraction and would like to strive to experience other-sex attraction, pursuing that kind of change with professional help is verboten.

Thank goodness the current administration is there to “help” our sexually confused youth, right?

On the contrary, the Catholic Church has acknowledged that adolescence is often the point at which certain transitory experiences of same-sex attraction and identity confusion arise from affective immaturity. Such experiences can indeed be addressed effectively through pastoral counseling, growth in chastity (and the other virtues), and through psychological counseling that assists adolescents in moving beyond the impulses of SSA toward an embrace of emotional maturity. Such healing may be accompanied by at least some level of other-sex attraction.

Clearly, not every adolescent with SSA experiences it as a transitory phenomenon. Many do not, it seems. But, to take any approach to SSA that automatically and absolutely concludes that no such real change in adolescent sexual attraction is even possible or worth pursuing is to consign those who could be helped to much unnecessary hardship and suffering. Instead, the Church insists that adolescents with SSA receive counseling in accord with a proper understanding of the human person, helping them avoid the trap of thinking that SSA at their age is an utterly immutable phenomenon.

With gender dysphoria, the Church stands firm in its understanding of the human person—body and soul—as being either male or female, in accord with the objective reality of being anatomically male or female. No subjective interior confusion can ever change the truth based on that tangible reality. Similarly, with the category of sexual “orientation,” we’re dealing with something illusory arising from subjective experience (being attracted to the same sex rather than the other sex) that contrasts with God’s objective plan for human sexuality. While the same-sex attraction is not illusory, the category of orientation is a man-made construct—a mere collection of points of data about the kinds of people we are and are not sexually attracted to, over time.

By bowing to the illusion of sexual orientation, we subordinate our reality to a “pattern” of attraction rather than seeing our attractions as directly linked to actual, living, breathing individual human persons. By lying prostrate before the supposed “immutability” of sexual orientation, we further diminish the human dignity of the person with SSA and relegate them to life without any possibility of experiencing other-sex attraction toward a real, particular human person with whom they just might be able to pursue the vocation to marriage, despite their more predominant experience of same-sex attractions.  While it’s true that not everyone will be called to marriage in this life in this way, we are all called, in accord with God’s plan, to experience sexual attraction to those of the other sex, not to those of the same sex. Slamming that door shut in the faces of those with SSA is contrary to their dignity.

For adolescents with SSA, it remains crucial that they understand that their sexual attractions do not necessarily remain forever fixed to correspond to the turbulent wash of emotions and impulses they first experience in puberty or earlier. The more they come to understand themselves and God’s plan for them, the more realistic is the possibility that they can and will, in future, experience the kind of sexual attraction—and sexual identity—God originally planned for them. As Catholics, we need to stand ready to provide that thread of hope to them, despite the cultural and political landscape insisting that the only “healthy” change is the kind that entrenches and affirms our subjective impulses and feelings.

And that’s the reason why the Obama Administration and others will promote only one-way change—change that doesn’t call into question anyone else’s feelings. The “professionals” will help a boy become a girl (think of all the other boys-who-want-to-be-girls who will be affirmed!). But, the “professionals” will not help boys with SSA to seek healing such that they might experience sexual attraction to a girl (think of all the other boys with SSA who might be offended!).

In the final analysis, what kind of change can we believe in for our young people? Not the version of change and non-change promoted above by Valerie Jarrett. But we can believe in conversion of heart, purity of heart, and healing of mind, such that our young people with SSA come to realize that it remains possible for them to live life liberated from this particular form of disordered desire and to experience sexual attraction in accord with God’s plan.

For many, this may not translate into an overwhelming transition toward other-sex attraction. But let’s be clear—even if one adolescent with transitory SSA can experience healing and move toward a more authentic experience of sexual identity, or even if just one adolescent with SSA grows up blessed to find a future spouse of the other sex, then this is change worth believing in—and worth fighting for.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org

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About Author

Deacon Jim Russell is a lifelong St. Louis resident, "cradle" Catholic, husband, father of eleven, and grandfather of two. Ordained to the Diaconate in 2002, Deacon Russell serves as Family Life Coordinator for the Office of Laity and Family Life in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, Missouri. He previously worked in full-time parish ministry for the last fourteen years. He remains an active supporter of Catholic radio and the Catholic blogosphere (some of his posts can be found at the “Virtual Vestibule,” the official blog of the Archdiocese of St. Louis (http://blog.stlouisreview.com/). Deacon Russell’s theological interests include the sanctity of marriage, the work of Pope St. John Paul II, and Catholic teaching on same-sex attraction. Follow Deacon Russell on Twitter at @MarriageSTL.

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