Message of support for Vicky Beeching

Last year, the prominent religious broadcaster Vicky Beeching (presenter of Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4 and frequent reviewer of the papers on Sky News) asked me for an interview on Catholic perspectives for her faith and feminism website.

As is standard practice these days, she used the medium of Twitter to publicise her various interviews. At that point, my personal painful story of abortion was not common knowledge, however a former friend whom I had confided in, sent Vicky a series of messages in which she informed her of my secret and claimed it as proof that I had probably had multiple abortions (not true) and was secretly pushing a pro-choice agenda.

Again and again she messaged Vicky, her messages becoming increasingly urgent and demanding in tone, “what about her abortion, how can you interview her as being pro-life” the recurring theme.

Thankfully Vicky paid no heed and published the interview here, one which, I hope does give a good account of Catholicism in relation to women. Almost within 5 minutes of the interview being posted, another woman who has displayed obsessive tendencies in terms of her strong and frequently posted contempt for me, wrote a comment in which she too, mentioned my abortion, accusing me of hypocrisy, of sanctioning abortion for myself and no-one else, failing to understand that my experience of abortion made me realise what a terrible thing it is, for mother and baby alike.

Though healed, at that time I was still in the early stages of the pregnancy with Raphael (who died in utero) and not ready for this information to be outed, especially not on in the comments box of such a public website.

I therefore asked Vicky to remove the comment and she immediately edited it, much to the chagrin of the original poster, who repeatedly hectored her on Twitter “why did you delete my comment about Caroline Farrow’s abortion”.

Perhaps it was a coincidence, but shortly after the interview was published Vicky repeatedly found herself tagged into a series of vitriolic and very personal comments, about her appearance, her intelligence and her motivations by the person who had messaged her, using the pretext of something else Vicky had said publicly, with which she disagreed.

Vicky could, if she was unprincipled and unscrupulous have published all this information, in an attempt to show me up as a hypocrite and undesirable person whose position on abortion was untenable, especially as she herself has a pro-choice view. The fact that she didn’t speaks volumes about her honesty, integrity and decency as a person. As does the fact that she also passed a series of radio interviews my way about the forthcoming papal conclave back in 2013, feeling that I would make a better pundit on the subject.

I’ve only met Vicky in the flesh once, (when she told me about the trolling she had received in relation to me) but found her to be an immensely charming, genuine and sincere person, who has treated me with utmost Christian kindness, despite the fact that she must have found my views on same-sex marriage difficult to accept, and going by her interview in today’s Independent, in which she comes out as same-sex attracted, potentially quite hurtful.

A lot will be written by many Christian commentators about this, but I’d like to publicly offer my love, prayers, support and thanks to Vicky who has modelled Christian behaviour, tolerance, compassion and understanding to someone with whom she is ideologically opposed. I owe her at least as much.

To support Vicky in her coming out, is not to necessarily endorse any of the choices which she might make, but to accept that what she has done is extraordinarily brave, not least because many of her target audience will strongly disagree with her. There has been talk of boycotting her music and this admission could well affect her commercially, although I suspect it will consolidate and further her position in terms of mainstream broadcasting. It must also have been difficult coming out with parents who take the traditional and orthodox Christian view of homosexuality. I should imagine she will also be subject to a fair few salacious and sexually derogatory comments, especially from certain newspapers and media outlets.

Vicky’s experience of public exorcisms are not the way in the Catholic Church, most would agree that this is no way to help and support anyone struggling with feelings of same-sex attraction, however it does highlight the plight of many young Christians who believe themselves to be gay.

Reverend Peter Ould in his response on Facebook, offers some typically sensible thoughts:

1. It’s almost always better this side of the closet. Locking away such a huge part of your emotional life leads to the kind of stress Vicky describes. Being truthful about your feelings is normatively liberating and tends to be much more about living with yourself than living with others (and their perceptions of you).

2. Coming out as LGB does not necessarily mean endorsing a particular sexual ethic. It is perfectly possible to be open and honest about your sexual attractions and still hold to a traditional position on sex and marriage. The sign of an emotionally and intellectually stunted and repressed person is not that they don’t act on their attractions, but rather that they think a person has to act on their attractions and emotions in a particular way to be spiritually healthy.

3. Coming Out narratives, with their accompanying emotions, need to be reviewed with the passage of time. As C S Lewis so clearly indicates with the story of the Queen of Glome in “Till we have Faces”, the victim narrative many of us tell is in fact often a denial of responsibility for our own sinful decisions and responses that have shaped who we are today. It’s too easy just to ignore inconvenient facts from yesterday that distort (even contradict sometimes) the picture you’re trying to paint today.

4. When Vicky says “The Church’s teaching was the reason that I lived in so much shame and isolation and pain for all those years” and then describes that teaching as ” I am attracted to people of the same sex and I’ve been told God hates that”, it’s worth pointing out that such a teaching is not Biblical. The Bible has plenty to say about the sinfulness of some sexual practices but it does not say that God hates people for being gay. And if we shape our future theologies and lives on a reaction to incorrect previous ones, we need to pick up “Till we have Faces” again.

(The Catechism of the Catholic Church says similar and goes on to say that people should never be treated unjustly on account of their sexual orientation)

Peter goes on to note the choice of Patrick Strudwick as interviewer, who is certainly no friend to either the Evangelical or Catholic churches as a result of their teachings about homosexuality. A few commentators describe the choice of interviewer as a ‘punch in the gut’ and highly political.

Peter Ould wonders whether or not the Independent would be prepared to run full and front page spreads of the equally brave testimonies of those who publicly identify as having same-sex attraction but have chosen to live celibate lives?

I might disagree with Vicky about the direction in which she wants to take the Anglican church, but from her testimony it is clear that more needs to be done to help young gay Christians identify their true vocation and not to alienate them from God, who, as she says, still loves loves them regardless. If nothing else, certain denominations ought to seriously re-think the practice of public exorcisms or the idea that a sexual orientation is indicative of demonic possession!

I strongly believe that when it comes to Christians who are attempting to reconcile their sexuality with a strong love of the Lord, as in Vicky’s case, Pope Francis’ words are the most salient “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge”.

It is not for us to judge the heart and mind of another Christian, all we can do is explain our own stance and why we believe God has asked us to live a certain way and leave the rest to Him. I certainly can’t claim that my heart is any purer than any other Christian seeking to deepen their relationship with the Creator and who at the same time wishes for a lifelong partner.

I disagree with many of Strudwick’s narratives and assumptions, which are coloured by his personal judgement, but I am sorry that Vicky has experienced such a tortuous and painful time, including a debilitating illness and like many of my good Catholic friends, I have no interest in eschewing her on account of her sexual preferences.

Talking of her parents’ attitude to the theology around homosexuality, who disagree with her, but love her all the same she says “it’s a picture of what is possible, even when you don’t agree, that love can supersede everything”

A sentiment that we all ought to bear in mind.

Bindel: Born this way?

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Taken from this weekend’s Gay Pride event in London. Genetic pre-disposition or social conditioning/choice?

Julie Bindel, bete noir of the LGBT activists scene is back, having written an interesting book Straight Expectations, one chapter of which examines the question of the ‘gay gene’ and whether or not homosexuality is a choice.

I never got an opportunity to debate Bindel  in any of the same-sex marriage media debates much to my regret. I’d like to meet Julie, though no doubt she would vehemently disagree with me. She’s highly intelligent, feisty and ferocious and in my opinion one of the most challenging writers on the entire subject. Her writing is all the more compelling for the conservative Christian when one considers that she does not share or endorse our creed, particularly in the area of sexual ethics.

Out of every single opponent I was put up against, including Peter Tatchell, whose main response was to screech ‘bigot’ by way of retort, none of them seemed to match the intellect of Bindel, nor did their  arguments go beyond the whole ‘equality equals sameness’ schtick. Intermingled amongst the disappointment of not debating Julie, was a sense of relief in that her arguments offered a genuine critique of the institution of marriage as a whole – which is a deft re-frame.

No doubt she would consider Catholic ideology as batshit extreme and outrageous as I consider some of her radical feminism, however what both positions have in common is that they are, if nothing else, entirely reasoned and logical. One of my colleagues appeared on a few programmes with her, and said that though her overall position was outre, he also conceded that she was very good and did actually make some sound points.

My husband, who has no idea who’s who in the media and chattering classes sent me a text the other day, saying that he had listened to Start the Week on Radio 4 on his way into work and heard this woman, whose name he couldn’t recall, whose overall position he didn’t espouse, having some disastrous ideas, but who was, in his opinion, nonetheless interesting. He urged me to download the programme or listen on Iplayer as he thought it was absolutely fascinating. Having checked out the synopsis, it was indeed Bindel discussing her new book and he was right, she did make some excellent and compelling points. If nothing else, Bindel is always interesting.

The Independent has published an interview between the respected establishment gay male voice Patrick Strudwick and Bindel, in which Bindel steadfastly and robustly defends her point of view that being gay is a choice. The dislike, frustration and contempt emanating from Strudwick is palpable. He deliberately chooses loaded comparisons, referring to her as an “Old Testament Maven from Tennesse” thereby planting and reinforcing the Levitical laws cliche, neatly aligning Bindel’s views with the Deep South redneck caricature.

Strudwick attempts to dismiss the issue of why some people have a different sexual orientation as being irrelevant and a preoccupation of bigots, forgetting that human diversity will always hold fascination for scientists and athropologists alike. It’s not bigoted wondering if there is a biological or evolutionary reason for various difference and by and large it is those very same bigots who would fight vociferously for the rights of gay people to be born should a test ever be developed which could identify the gay gene or sexual orientation in utero.

Bindel’s definition of choice is complex – it certainly isn’t of the “I think I’ll be gay to be fashionable”, or picking a sexual identity off the shelf, if one were to apply the word in a consumer context.

“Because I think the opposite of having an innate, biological explanation [for homosexuality] – there’s no evidence for that – has to be some kind of choice, as well as some deep-rooted, embedded responses that developed through different experiences in our childhood.”

That would appear to make sense, twin studies, appear to demonstrate that there is some kind of biological root, while there may be some kind of genetic disposition, gay men share some genetic signatures on the X chromosome, this is not the whole story. Biological factors could perhaps be mediated by childhood experiences, according to one clinical psychologist. Another theory is that environmental factors outside our control could affect gene receptors, meaning that they are either triggered or switched off in certain people, which always goes some way to explain why some people can smoke and drink inordinate amounts and yet still live to a ripe old age, free of related cancers.

The interesting thing is that these biological factors only seem to have been prevalent in men; Bindel may well have a point when she talks about lesbianism being chosen, and she’s also correct not to want to lump those who do not subscribe to hetrosexual norms, (including asexual people) into one homogenous mass. which if nothing else, is a form of de-humanisation. Actress Cynthia Nixon made a similar point about her lesbianism being freely chosen a few years ago, but was forced and  shamed by the liberal media into making a later retraction.

The quest for knowledge is not in itself bigoted and neither is there evidence to suggest that the scientists who Bindel believes to be ‘obsessed’ with the question are necessarily pursuing an agenda, whether that’s to definitively confirm the presence of a gay gene, or to use the idea of choice as a stick with which to beat gay people.

Strudwick puts his finger on the nub of why Bindel arouses such horror amongst some of the gay community because he believes that he stance will give ‘bigots comfort and fuel their agenda’.

They will say that even a prominent gay-rights campaigner agrees that it’s a choice, I counter.

“But I don’t agree with them! They wouldn’t use an argument from me in a million years!”

Strudwick is right, up to a point, there are those, including myself who believes that the personal testimony of a lesbian woman bears weight and there does seem to be an innate biological difference between lesbian women and gay men. Anecdote is not the plural of data, but I can think of several lesbian women of my acquaintance who have embarked on relationships with women after long-term relationships with men and sadly in some cases, of women who have decided that they were lesbian or preferred women following traumatic childhood cases of sexual abuse by men.

I’d also be inclined to agree with Strudwick in his identification of biological differences, gender is not merely a social fluid construct as Bindel would contend. Gender theory relies solely on ideology not an any established scientific fact. Julie’s position is a political one.

Given the numerous accusations of ‘bigotry’ leveled at those who did not wish to see the law changed and have a new definition of marriage imposed upon us, my support of Bindel will reinforce Strudwick’s conviction and unease about Bindel’s opinions.

Strudwick would do well remember that the endorsement of those with ‘undesirable views’ of a certain position, doesn’t alter the facts at hand and shouldn’t be allowed to poison or close down the discussion. Society and the media must allow for the free exchange of ideas and ignore the fact that haters on both sides of the sexual conservatism/libertinism debate or culture wars will grasp whatever is available to fuel their prejudice. The issue of whether or not being gay is freely chosen or an involuntary one, down to biological factors alone will continue to intrigue people until its satisfactory resolution, which would appear to be some way off.

The mainstream debate about same-sex marriage did not in any way centre around the causes of homosexuality, it was rightly irrelevant. What was under discussion was the institution of marriage, not the behaviour of non-heterosexuals.

Even in Catholicism that most ‘bigoted’ of religions the issue  does not ever figure, the Catechism observes that it is is not known why people have a different sexual orientation, and in event everyone ought to be treated with the dignity and respect that they are due. Straight or gay everyone is urged to act with appropriate sexual restraint. Being straight does not mean that one has no other choice other than to have sex with those to whom you find yourself attracted. Having consensual sexual intercourse or indulging in sexual acts will, always be a choice.

What is missing however, is that personal choices of this nature are rarely straightforward and almost never made in a vaccum. It doesn’t really matter whether or not homosexuality is chosen, what should be recognised is that even if this is the case for some people, even if a tiny minority do make a conscious choice to be of a certain orientation, this is completely irrelevant. We don’t stigmatise and demonise post-abortive women on account of their choices, the same principles must be applied to the gay community.

For those wondering why a Catholic is writing about or endorsing a LGBT writer, the answer is pretty simple. You can’t reject a point of view with any credence unless you can engage with it critically. Julie Bindel offers a radical critique of LGBT culture from a unique perspective.